I was disturbed to read a pandering post by a Google employee that decries Michael Moore's documentary Siko and offers advertising as a means for the U.S. health care industry. Others were, and Google's official position that was no position. Dan Farber has been following the story, and added this update:
Update 2: Now we have an explanation from Ms. Turner regarding how to read her post. She just meant to state Google’s position that “advertising is a very democratic and effective way to participate in a public dialogue.” I won’t argue with the idea of advertising as democratic. Anyone with the money or winning bid can get their message out into the ether. But ads tend to be one-sided sales pitches without footnotes, not a public dialog. If we want a public dialog, having the two opposing sides in a public debate would be a far better way to educate the public.
I will argue with the idea of advertising as democratic. It is the opposite. Spending isn't speech. Sure, U.S. health care can buy ads to be placed in context alongside public discourse. But not everyone can. It concerns me that the bright people at Google could be talking themselves into believing that either advertising is democracy, let alone that it helps democracy.
If the U.S. health care industry really wants to respond to Sicko, they will engage in, if not host, online communities for civic dialog. However, most online communities these days are powered by advertising. Community hosts and ad networks have to balance against the very strong incentives to smudge context and placement until where the line between paid and unpaid content are blurred. A balance is struck, not unlike between editorial and publishing in traditional media, but with a very big difference in that the audience has the choice to go elsewhere with a single click. Or create their own without the influence of advertising.