Elon Musk has bought Twitter amid promises to make the platform more hospitable to the freedom of speech, but perhaps not coincidentally, both former president Barack Obama and never-president Hillary Clinton have recently come out strongly in favor of speech restrictions. It’s clear that the powerful forces that want to silence political and cultural dissent in this country today, and make it impossible for anything but the Left’s favored positions, are not giving up, Elon Musk or no Elon Musk. Google has added a feature to Google Docs that will nudge writers toward using language that is more “inclusive,” that is, more in line with Leftist sensibilities.
Google Docs is supposed to be simply an online word processor and document editor that makes it easy for multiple people to see and work on a document. That part is great, but it’s increasingly clear that the Left never leaves well enough alone when providing a service. And so on March 31, Google announced that it was providing “More assistive writing suggestions in Google Docs,” and they didn’t just mean prompts that would alert you to when you wrote “your” for “you’re.”
The new features, Google explained, would “provide a variety of tone and style suggestions to help you create impactful documents faster.” These would include suggestions for “more dynamic or contextually relevant wording,” using “active rather than passive voice,” and employing “more concise phrases.” All that had the potential to be bad enough, for while it is indeed good to use dynamic and contextually relevant wording, and avoid the passive voice and excessive verbosity, the idea of a computer program doing this automatically had the potential to smooth out everyone’s language into featureless, computer-generated, workaday prose that had been drained of individuality and personality. Can you imagine running William Faulkner through Google Docs? Even Ernest Hemingway’s precision and concision would end up homogenized. Would it be possible to tell the difference between Faulkner and Hemingway once Google Docs got through?
But that was not even close to being the worst of it. Google Docs also now promises to help the reader use “more inclusive words or phrases” and reconsider “potentially inappropriate words.” Last Monday, real estate journalist Rebecca Baird-Remba showed how this worked: she tweeted a screenshot from Google Docs showing that when she typed the word “landlord,” a prompt came up saying: “Inclusive language: Some of these words may not be inclusive to all readers. Try instead ‘property owner,’ ‘proprieter.’” Baird-Remba replied to skeptics: “i love how people are asking if this is real. yes! i was writing a lease story in google docs and this popped up in the first sentence.”
It isn’t just Google Docs, either. Replying to Baird-Remba, another Twitter user provided a screenshot of “Microsoft Editor Settings,” which allow readers to check boxes for automatic flagging of “Age Bias,” “Cultural Bias,” “Ethnic Slurs,” “Gender Bias,” “Gender-Neutral Pronouns,” and more. The boxes can all be unchecked at this point, but it isn’t hard to foresee a day when people who want to write freely are going to have to buy an old typewriter and distribute what they write furtively, as in the days of the samizdat literature in the old Soviet Union.
Last Tuesday, Vice ran some famous words through these new Google Docs features, with striking results: “Google suggested that Martin Luther King Jr. should have talked about ‘the intense urgency of now’ rather than ‘the fierce urgency of now’ in his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech and edited President John F. Kennedy’s use in his inaugural address of the phrase ‘for all mankind’ to say ‘for all humankind.’” Oddly, “a transcribed interview of neo-Nazi and former Klan leader David Duke—in which he uses the N-word and talks about hunting Black people—gets no notes.” On the other hand, “radical feminist Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto gets more edits than Duke’s tirade; she should use ‘police officers’ instead of ‘policemen,’ Google helpfully notes. Even Jesus (or at least the translators responsible for the King James Bible) doesn’t get off easily—rather than talking about God’s ‘wonderful’ works in the Sermon on the Mount, Google’s robot asserts, He should have used the words ‘great,’ ‘marvelous,’ or ‘lovely.’”
Google Docs is not great, marvelous, or lovely. According to Ireland’s Buzz on Monday, free speech campaigner Silkie Carlo of Big Brother Watch observed that “Google’s new word warnings aren’t assistive, they’re deeply intrusive. This speech-policing is profoundly clumsy, creepy and wrong, often reinforcing bias.” But of course that’s precisely the idea: to reinforce Leftist biases in the user, and to make him or her assume that they are as natural as breathing, ubiquitous, and never to be questioned. Can Elon Musk buy Google?
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He is author of 23 books including many bestsellers, such as The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades), The Truth About Muhammad and The History of Jihad. His latest book is The Critical Qur’an. Follow him on Twitter here. Like him on Facebook here.