It turns out that this conspiracy theory is true.
For years, conservatives have complained that tech giant Google changes its search algorithms in order to manipulate results. Google has strenuously denied that charge, claiming there is no bias in the way that search results appear.
According to the Wall Street Journal, that’s a load of crap.
The Journal conducted a massive investigation that involved interviewing a hundred witnesses and examining internal documents from the company and found that Google altered its search engine algorithms 3,200 times last year. Much of that alteration was done in favor of promoting big business over small, as well as showing favor to big advertisers like eBay.
But there were instances of bias shown against conservative sites too.
When Breitbart News posted a video of Brin and Google CEO Sundar Pichai in 2018 seeming upset in an address to staffers after President Donald Trump’s election, Google staffers flagged on the company’s internal message boards that the video appeared on the 12th page of search results for “leaked Google video Trump,” making it look intentionally buried, the Journal reported. The leaked video reportedly ranked higher in search results shortly after. The Google spokesperson said the company investigates incoming reports when the search algorithm isn’t working as it expects.
The company also blacklists spam sites, as well as “hate sites,” according to the investigation. They soft-pedal issues like abortion — which almost certainly hurts anti-abortion sites.
This is a huge problem for Google. Not only is it bad PR, but some Google executives may have perjured themselves in testimony before congressional committees.
Google also maintained blacklists of spam sites and terms to keep from auto-complete, according to the Journal, seemingly contradicting an executive’s congressional testimony in 2018. Asked if Google had ever blacklisted a “company, group, individual or outlet … for political reasons,” Google vice president of public policy Karan Bhatia said, “No, ma’am, we don’t use blacklists/whitelists to influence our search results,” according to the transcript.
The Google spokesperson told CNBC that it does not consider political ideology when adjusting its algorithms, products or policies.
National Review reports that Google tweaks its search algorithms in other ways.
The search engine behemoth also manually modifies news results and downplays controversial topics such as abortion or immigration in auto-complete suggestions. Google keeps blacklists of certain websites to eliminate or hide, including some that are not illegal or spam and do not contain copyright infringement.
Google employees are allowed to lobby for particular changes in search results, including the topic of vaccinations and autism.
Ed Morrissey sums up the damage Google is doing.
At least some of this political interference is also inexplicable except out of institutional bias, although not all of it, which we’ll get to next. Google’s engineers are now determining what constitutes acceptable discourse on abortion and immigration? Who appointed them to regulate that debate? Why not just allow consumers to get honest search results and make that determination for themselves? Either they want to control the Overton window on debates or Google thinks their customers are idiots. I suspect it’s both.
However, we can’t honestly lay all of this on Google, considering the political and commercial environment of the last few years. One result of all the poisonous Russia-collusion hysteria was to have lawmakers threaten to rip tech giants apart unless they prevented the next round of Jesus-armwrestles-Hillary memes from damaging our psyches. And it wasn’t just the lawmakers either, but lots and lots of Americans who blamed the merry-prankster campaign on platforms like Google and Facebook, and who demanded that they become content editors and gatekeepers.
When a huge private company like Google allows pressure from politicians to change the way it does business, our freedoms are at risk. The WSJ investigation will no doubt give a boost to efforts by 50 state attorneys general currently looking into an anti-trust action against the tech giant. Perhaps Google’s fear of being broken up will change its policy, but I’m not betting on it.