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Google Joins Charlie Hebdo Solidarity Movement

By Katherine Noyes
Jan 9, 2015 7:28 AM PT

Google has donated nearly US$300,000 to help French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo make its largest print run ever, in the aftermath of Wednesday's massacre at the magazine's Paris office.

Its normal production run numbers about 60,000 copies, but the surviving staff plan to print a million issues next week.

Le Monde, France TÚlÚvisions and Radio France also have pledged to help keep the publication alive, according to Luc Bronner, assistant managing editor with Le Monde.

The UK's Guardian Media Group has pledged roughly $150,000.

Of the 12 people killed by masked gunmen in this week's rampage, eight were journalists with Charlie Hebdo.

As the manhunt continued Thursday for the two chief suspects in the attack, France observed a national day of mourning, including a minute of silence at noon and a darkening of the Eiffel Tower's lights.

'A Commendable Move'

Google's contribution reportedly comes from a press fund it set up in early 2013 following a dispute with French publishers over news content displayed in Google search results.

The fund is financed but not managed by Google and now will be used to help support Charlie Hebdo.

"This is Google's effort to support and show solidarity with those mourning the loss of these writers and cartoonists in the wake of this horrifying tragedy," said Greg Sterling, vice president of strategy for the Local Search Association.

"It's a commendable move by Google in support of the principle of free expression," Sterling told TechNewsWorld.

'Good for Them'

The decision by Charlie Hebdo's remaining staff to proceed in publishing its next edition "shows great courage," said B2B social media strategist Paul Gillin.

"Terrorists seek to destroy and to spark fear in their victims," he explained. "Charlie Hebdo is doing exactly what the terrorists don't want. Good for them."

No Stranger to Censorship

"Google has recently been under pressure on several fronts to suppress its search results because of local laws," Gillin told TechNewsWorld.

"There was the 'right to be forgotten' judgment in the EU, the fight with Spanish publishers that prompted Google to shut down its news site in Spain entirely last month, and a brief battle with German publishers who accused Google of stealing business from them," he pointed out.

"I think Google is feeling like a bit of a victim of censorship right now, and showing solidarity with a news organization that has suffered a far more devastating form of censorship seems appropriate," Gillin suggested.

Google is also "eager to show its support of news publishers whenever it can," he said.

"The company has had a rocky relationship with publishers for a long time over their accusations that it steals traffic from them, and that's why it set up the press innovation fund," noted Gillin. "Google wants to be seen as the champion of news organizations, and this is a visible opportunity to do that."

Awaiting Government Response

Charlie Hebdo's remaining staff are "clearly not willing to cower in fear after this attack," said Sophia Cope, a staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

"They are willing to do what they've always done, which is publish what they believe in and exercise their rights to free expression," she told TechNewsWorld.

There's no doubt that free speech was under attack this week in Paris, but "what's more concerning is what will be the government's reaction to that," suggested Cope.

"In the U.S., there are already a couple of Republican senators who are using this as an excuse to question the need for surveillance reform in the United States," she noted.

"In response to terrorist attacks in other countries, laws are often quickly passed that actually impinge on other rights -- namely, civil rights and the right to privacy," Cope said. "We're concerned about that possibility of government overreaction."

Katherine Noyes has been reporting on business and technology for decades. You can find her on Twitter and Google+.

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