Excerpted from Don’t See Evil: Google’s Boycott Campaign Against War Photography and Alternative Media by Dan Sanchez
On the morning of March 18, Eric Garris, founder and webmaster of Antiwar.com, received a form email from Google AdSense informing him that all of Antiwar.com’s Google ads had been disabled. The reason given was that one of the site’s pages with ads on it displayed images that violated AdSense’s policy against “violent or disturbing content, including sites with gory text or images.”
Of course the images in question were not “snuff,” or anything intended for titillation whatsoever. They were the famous images of detainee abuse at the Abu Ghraib US military prison in Iraq. Those images are important public information, especially for Americans. They are the previously secret documentation of horrific state violence inflicted in our name and funded by our tax dollars.
They are also eminently newsworthy because they show the government wantonly generating insecurity for the American public. Such abuse fuels anti-American and anti-western rage that can culminate in acts of terrorism. For example, it did just that in the case of Chérif Kouachi, who took part in one of the Paris terror attacks of early this year after becoming radicalized by learning about the Abu Ghraib abuses.
Indeed many apologists for such abuse fully acknowledge this blowback effect, since they expressly cite it as the main reason for blocking the release of abuse photos. Of course they ignore the fact that this danger they acknowledge is an excellent reason not to commit such abuses in the first place. And they are naïve if they really think word wouldn’t get out about such abuses among Iraqis and Muslims in general even without the photos. The dissemination of such photos chiefly serves to ultimately make terrorist attacks less likely by driving a disgusted American public to demand an end to such terrorism-inducing abuses.
The newsworthy nature of the photos made no difference to Google; or it made altogether the wrong kind of difference. Either way, they were considered non-compliant, and so Antiwar.com’s AdSense account, along with its revenue, were suspended immediately.
This struck Garris as odd. In all his years administering web sites, he had previously run into content policy issues with AdSense around half a dozen times. Each time, Google had not immediately disabled the ads, but instead gave the customer 72-hours to fix the violation. In fact, he had never heard of AdSense suspending an account without warning until this incident. Why the suddenly draconian response this time? Also, the Abu Ghraib page had been public for 11 years. Why the sudden concern about it only now?