Ex-election candidate alleges religious discrimination by Google

Mark Savage criticises search engine’s refusal to take down posts calling him a homophobe

File image of Mark Savage outside the Circuit Court. File photograph: Courts Collins

File image of Mark Savage outside the Circuit Court. File photograph: Courts Collins

 

A former local election candidate told the High Court on Friday that Google is discriminating against him because of his religious beliefs by refusing to remove posts alleging he is a homophobe.

Mark Savage, who ran as an Independent in Swords, Co Dublin, in the local elections in 2014, says the allegations that he is a homophobe are untrue.

Google’s treatment of him was part of the internet giant’s own “worldwide campaign in support of LGBT issues and I take that as discrimination against me”, he said.

Google was not responsive to his “take-down” request in relation to the homophobe claims because of his religious beliefs and “my disapproval for gay marriage, gay lifestyle and inappropriate behaviour”, he said.

Mr Savage is opposing an appeal by the Data Protection Commissioner and Google over a Circuit Court decision in favour of Mr Savage’s application that internet threads relating to the allegation that he is a homophobe should be taken down under “right to be forgotten” guidelines.

He had objected to a thread on Reddit describing him as: “Mark Savage - North County Dublins (sic) homophobic candidate.”

The thread arose from election leaflets handed out during his campaign, which referred to “gay perverts cavorting en flagrante on the beach on broad daylight”.

Google says that if the Circuit Court ruling is upheld, it will impose an “intolerable and unworkable” burden on search engines.

On the second day of the appeal before Judge Michael White, Mr Savage, representing himself, argued that the Circuit Court decision should stand. *

‘A matter of opinion’

Responding to arguments from Cian Ferriter SC, for Google, that the threads reflected the opinions of individuals, Mr Savage said the effect of the Reddit thread was to present as fact a matter which was based on opinion.

A fact could not be based on an opinion under defamation law, he said.

In relation to the discussion which occurred on this Reddit thread, Mr Savage said he did not object to “ad-hominem” abuse, as he understood there was no right in law not to be offended.

However, it was misleading for Google to claim the reason for permitting this thread was it was a matter of public interest, he said.

He said he “did not mind the abuse”, but to call him a homophobe, which was not based on fact, was a different matter.

He disputed Google’s claim that the homophobe thread appeared on the first page of a search of his name as the result of automatic word-searching.

More recent information about him, including newspaper articles, did not appear before the Reddit thread, he said.

The case resumes on Tuesday.

* This article was edited on May 26th 2017. An earlier version of this report said in error that the plaintiff accused the Data Protection Commissioner of bias.