Google Is Destroying Your Access to News: Book Censorship News, April 19, 2024

Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She’s the editor/author of (DON’T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

Earlier this year, several users began to note that the “News” tab on Google was disappearing. It wasn’t one time here or there. It was noticeable enough that several outlets reported on the issue. Indeed, Google’s experiment in disappearing the “news” feature wasn’t a bug. It was a goal.

Filtering to news results is still available on Google for me, but this week, I noticed something I never had appear before. In researching “young adult novel” news for the “What’s Up in YA?” newsletter, refining my search to a specific date range — April 11 through April 15, 2024 — and to the news tab, this is what popped up:

Search results for "young adult novel" with refinements on date and to news.Search results for "young adult novel" with refinements on date and to news.

Since when, Google, does refining a search mean that I would like loads of results that do not include the news I’m looking for? Apparently, to Google, this is the future of search.

To say the results were garbage would be a deep understatement. I could not find any news because my results looked like this:

young adult novel google news search results.young adult novel google news search results.

There are pages of results from foreign, questionable websites that are nothing but “deals” on book titles. Repeating the search a day later, the results looked similar, with pages of links to individual Barnes & Noble stores and their upcoming events. None of this is news, and indeed, none of this even shows up when you do a general Google search — the news tab specifically has become completely garbagified (or, as Cory Doctorow would note, enshittified).

This is deeply concerning.

First, this directly impacts the ability of anyone to find real, verified news on topics of importance. For the book ban news roundup, I spent significantly more time this week gathering news about book bans because, well, now I not only have to do two times the number of searches — one on Google News and one on Google in general (which brings back even worse results than news does) — but I also have to verify that the thing I’m looking at is actually a news outlet. You might think an outlet like Alabama 1819 looks like a news source, for example, but then you realize they have been actively encouraging book banning and have a blatant agenda and slant to their “news.”

Not only will your news roundups here be shorter and less comprehensive — hooray because this is our shared democracy being completely destroyed, and the news covering this censorship is already terrible enough on its own — but you should be worried about this happening in the wake of ongoing political unrest around the world. You should be worried about this happening in the midst of an election year. You should be worried about this in the midst of an information crisis.

And you should be deeply concerned about this happening as we see an unfettered rise in fascism.

Because we’ve put all of our water into the bucket of Google, what do we do now when it comes to finding actual news? We can’t rely on social media because we know they are controlled by those with particular political affiliations and who show us what they think we want to see via algorithms.

There are no other news search resources. You can keyword with the best of them, but without a place to refine, you’re shit out of luck.

Thanks, Google, for taking your place right alongside the news media itself in contributing to the rise in book bans, mis-/dis-/mal- information, and increasing fascism.

Sorry to everyone out there who now needs to rewrite all of your information literacy guides with a big ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ on where to find reliable news before you even get the opportunity to assess its validity and accuracy. Of course this happens at a time when librarians and educators are not only not being maligned but are not being recruited and supported in their institutions.

This is where we are now, but sadly, it was bound to happen.

Some of us naively thought it might be after the election. But alas, it’s here now, and your sources of reliable information finding have withered even further.

Book Censorship News: April 19, 2024

Note: I’ll be out of the office on Thursday this week, meaning that the news below covers only that published before mid-day Wednesday. I’ll include news from Thursday of this week in next week’s roundup.

  • The Truth as Told by Mason Buttle was removed from Lakeland Middle School (ID). Why? One parent’s nonsense over “homosexual content” led to a massive debate about the book.
  • The Bluest Eye is banned now in Wentzville Schools (MO).
  • Legislators in Alabama are pushing for millions of dollars of library funding…tied to librarians pulling books that they don’t like.
  • I thought that the book banners only cared about school libraries? Looks like they’re still proving themselves liars, as there were bomb threats made to a Provo, Utah, bookstore last weekend.
  • Also last weekend, Buffalo Street Books in Ithaca, New York, received a similarly-executed bomb threat. But it’s just the inappropriate books in schools, etc.
  • In Idaho, librarians must move materials “harmful to minors” or face being sued. The bill was signed into law.
  • “‘I caught wind that they were peddling this smut or allowing this smut inside of schools and it’s deeply disturbing,’ said Andrew Blawat, a Bartow County resident who spoke during the meeting but does not have children in the school district.” This is about books in Bartow County Schools, Georgia, featuring the same tired talking points and bonus adults without kids in the district. The books the crisis actors are mad about include The Handmaid’s Tale, Slaughterhouse-Five, The Lovely Bones, Perks of Being a Wallflower, and The Kite Runner.
  • Fremont County Commission (WY) is threatening to take over the county public libraries if they don’t address the (made up, fake, non-existent) crisis of pornographic books for children. Fascism, y’all.
  • Five additional publishers have joined Penguin Random House in their lawsuit against SF 496 in Iowa.
  • Dozens of books might be returned to Conroe Independent School District (TX). Read this story and sit with the statistics (which aren’t shocking, as we’ve seen the same in states like Maine, but are absolutely worth reiterating): when the book review committee actually reads the book being challenged, it stays on shelves 77% of the time, and when they don’t bother to read it, the books are removed 79% of the time.
  • Nazareth Area High School (PA) will keep Push on shelves and has updated its book review policy. This line in the story should bother you: “Leh said he didn’t want to put the district at risk of a lawsuit by voting to remove it, but suggested the book could ‘disappear’ down the line along with others that haven’t been checked out often by students.” The book could “disappear” down the line.
  • 24 books will have their fates decided in Hernando County Schools (FL) at the May 2 meeting.
  • The Perkiomen Valley School Board (PA) passed a new book removal policy, and this story is…conflicting? They’re happy not to have passed a book banning bill but then mention they banned Gender Queer earlier because it didn’t meet their new standards. The tl;dr is they’ll only ban graphic novels and comics now.
  • The Bermudian Springs school board (PA) has a new policy that will — despite board member claims it won’t — make banning books in the district a piece of cake. When you make your policy go from two pages to four pages so you can detail every kind of sexual situation possible, it seems like you have the fixation on sex. Just a thought!
  • “Greif later clarified this particular policy does not prohibit teachers from teaching anything that is deemed controversial or sensitive, but asks them to present a balanced view determining which material they choose to use as an instructional resource.” The Hanover County School Board (VA) put together a new policy that would help end their rampant book banning — so I guess now educators can’t teach Anne Frank unless they also teach a Holocaust denial book?
  • The bigots are mad about LGBTQ+ books at Clancy Elementary School (MT). Bible verse quote as “proof” of indoctrination, check!
  • Last Night at the Telegraph Club and All Boys Aren’t Blue are under fire at Boiling Springs High School (PA) still.
  • Two books are being considered for relocation at Newport Beach Public Library (CA) this week. They are Melissa and Prince & Knight. Both LGBTQ+, of course. In a paywalled update to the story, the books were moved out of their appropriate section.
  • A superintendent at Spain Park High School (AL) removed access to two books via the SORA ebook app at the school when one parent complained. The entire app has been disabled now so the school can look for other problem books. You read that correctly.
  • Baker County Library (OR) proactively updated book challenge policies in the wake of what’s happening across the country. I’m sharing this story because this is what all libraries need to be doing — this one hasn’t experienced challenges yet and acted to protect material access further in the event challenges to arise.
  • Oconee County Library Board of Trustees (GA) has moved several books around the Athens Public Library. This includes moving a book for juvenile readers to the YA section and a YA book into the adult section.
  • “Brooke Ritter spoke come out against the LGBTQ+ community, saying books with mentions of that community are harmful to her elementary school-age child.” There is still nonsense in the Kearney Public Schools (NE) because of bigoted parents not liking that the school decided they need to parent their own kids over books.
  • The latest on Rockingham County (VA) schools and their removal of 57 books.
  • Aside from the names of the books being not entirely correct (“Parts & Hearts” is presumably Jack of Hearts and Other Parts), here are the eight books a conservative coalition in Fairhope, Alabama, want relocated in the public library.
  • With the new legislation in Utah that bans books in every district that have been banned in a number of other districts, the state education department now has to issue guidelines for every district about what books they need to remove ASAP. This is a dystopia we live in — 100s of books will just be pulled under the guise of “parental rights” and “local control” when it’s both being revoked by the new law.
  • Book banning will (in theory) begin to lessen in Florida, but DeSantis blames a “liberal activist” for it. In theory, because the bill just limits how many challenges someone who isn’t in a district can lodge at once.
  • Hordes of angry Moms For Liberty members showed up to the Billings Public School board meeting (MT) to demand book banning. This is not normal, rational human behavior.
  • “A divided federal appeals court on Tuesday declined to disturb a ruling that blocked Texas from enforcing part of a law banning sexually explicit books from public school libraries.” This is a small but important victory in the lawsuit over Texas’s READER Act.
  • Crown of Midnight by Sarah Maas and Freedom Writers Diary by Erin Gruwell were banned this week in Horry County School Libraries (SC).
  • Broward County Schools (FL) heard from a pastor who is mad about the book Push being on school library shelves.
  • Two Warwick School District board members (PA) secretly met with a conservative law firm that has been at the center of anti-trans and book banning policies elsewhere in the state.
  • An Arkansas legislator asked public libraries to tell him if they have some of the books he doesn’t like, and now he’s proclaiming on social media that he has proof they have porn in them. This brand of Christian is so prurient it hurts.
  • Palmer, Alaska, has its city council asking the state attorney general whether certain books are obscene as a means to get those books off library shelves.
  • North Hunterdon-Voorhees Schools (NJ) will make a final decision on whether or not to ban Let’s Talk About It in early May. The committee has already apparently reviewed it but has not released the report.
  • Durham County Public Library (NC) had a bomb threat this week because of a rainbow storytime.

  • What Young People Can Do About Book Bans: Book Censorship News, April 12, 2024

  • Sexual Assault Awareness Month & Book Banning: Book Censorship News, April 5, 2024

  • How Public Libraries Are Targeted Right Now—It’s Not “Just” Books: Book Censorship News, March 29, 2024

  • The 2024 Lambda Literary Awards Shortlists Are Here

  • You’re Wrong About These Common Myths About Book Ban: Book Censorship News, March 22, 2024

  • State Anti-Book Ban Legislation Updates: Book Censorship News, March 15, 2024

  • They’re Dismantling Higher Education, Too: Book Censorship News, March 8, 2024

  • The Landmine of Common Sense Media: Book Censorship News, March 1, 2024

  • What Updates Should Library Collection Policies Include?: Book Censorship News, February 23, 2024

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