Does the government know how search engines work?

Letter to the Guardian:

The call by the Government for a clampdown on information about suicide on the internet has all the signs of a typical New Labour panic (11 October).

First, there’s the exaggerated anonymous quotes from an official. In this case, it’s the implication that if you search for “suicide” and “UK” that you find information on what to do with a car exhaust and a hose pipe before you find information about the Samaritans.

This isn’t the general experience – for example, searching for UK sites on the day the quote was published for “suicide UK” gave a help group for suicides relatives first, then a counselling help site including the Samaritans’ number. And so on down the list, including the Samaritans’ own site coming up in the top ten results. The closest you get to the sort of sites the nameless official is trying to scare us about is in fact the Guardian’s own site, which gets a story in the top ten about euthanasia.

Then there’s the gut Government instinct that the way to progress is to regulate and interfere. In fact, the answer is much simpler – get high profile websites (like the Government’s very own) to link more to the Samaritans, and up the rankings it will go to. Encourage MPs, councils and others too to link through, and bingo – job done without the need for central control freakery. Going with the flow on the Internet and utilising its own strengths is much more likely to be successful.

There is much other serious work to be done, as the Guardian’s story explained with heart-rending examples. But the government hardly helps its case with such misleading exaggeration nor with proposed solutions which logically point to banning the Guardian’s news stories from coming up in search results.


Lynne Featherstone MP