My social media stream is full of people praising Google for taking a ‘brave’ stand against the Russian state. Why? Well, today’s Google Doodle is a rainbow themed Winter Olympics Graphic.
The Russian Government has recently passed blasphemy laws and other measures that restrict freedom of expression. They have also passed a ‘gay propaganda’ law which bans discussion of homosexuality around minors – an attack on the already embattled homosexual community in Russia.
The rainbow is the symbol of gay and ‘pride’ culture. So the use of the spectrum with pictures of Winter Olympic Sports, alongside a particularly uplifting and inclusive paragraph from the Olympic Charter, is a clear message that Google supports homosexuals in Russia.
Of course, yes, I agree with Google’s position. But is the act of dedicating a Google Doodle in support of gay rights in Russia really such a valuable gesture? Its the corporate equivalent of changing your Twitter avatar to support a cause. It requires very little money or effort… and its gone in a day. Tomorrow the Doodle will probably be a charcol drawing to mark the bicentenary of some composer, or a GIF animation reminding us of some advance in computing from three decades ago. Also, most people who see the Doodle will not be in Russia and will support the idea of gay rights anyway. Its hardly a fringe position in Mountain View, California. I’ll wager that this socially liberal gesture burnishes Google’s brand in the markets that matter.
Has Google donated any money or infrastructure to gay rights campaigners in Russia? Has it implemented or changed any policies regarding its Russian operations or the way the Google.ru site that will materially assist those activists? Has Eric Schmidt, Larry Page or Sergey Brin actually said anything in public about these repressive laws? Can gay rights groups in Russia count on Google’s support next week, next month, next year?
I do not doubt that gay people in Russia and elsewhere in the world will derive some succour from this graphic… but from such an influential and rich company as Google, I think we should expect more.