After President Donald Trump’s election in 2016, Google employees entertained the possibility of suppressing pro-life conservative outlets in its search engine algorithms, The Daily Caller’s Peter Hasson revealed in a column published Thursday.
— Peter J. Hasson (@peterjhasson) November 30, 2018
According to “internal Google communications” obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation, many Google employees expected Hillary Clinton to win the presidential race. When this didn’t happen, they began discussing how Google could potentially prevent Trump from claiming another victory in 2020.
“This was an election of false equivalencies, and Google, sadly, had a hand in it,” Google engineer Scott Byer wrote in a Nov. 9, 2016, post.
Hasson notes that “The Daily Caller and Breitbart were specifically singled out” as “opinion blogs” that could prove “harmful” to Democrat causes. Byer then directed his coworkers to reduce the visibility of these news sites in search results.
“How many times did you see the Election now card with items from opinion blogs (Breitbart, Daily Caller) elevated next to legitimate news organizations? That’s something that can and should be fixed,” Byer wrote.
He then suggested promoting mainstream news outlets over their conservative competitors:
“I think we have a responsibility to expose the quality and truthfulness of sources – because not doing so hides real information under loud noises,” he wrote. “Beyond that, let’s concentrate on teaching critical thinking. A little bit of that would go a long way. Let’s make sure that we reverse things in four years – demographics will be on our side.”
But not everyone was on board with Byer’s approach.
Uri Dekel, a Google engineer who claimed to support Clinton, explained how an attempt to “fix” the search results in favor of more liberal outlets could backfire.
“Thinking that Breitbart, Drudge, etc. are not ‘legitimate news sources’ is contrary to the beliefs of a major portion of our user base is partially what got us to this mess. MSNBC is not more legit than Drudge just because Rachel Maddow may be more educated / less deplorable / closer to our views, than, say Sean Hannity,” Dekel wrote to Byer.
“I follow a lot of right wing folks on social networks you could tell something was brewing,” he continued. “We laughed off Drudge’s Instant Polls and all that stuff, but in the end, people go to those sources because they believe that the media doesn’t do it’s job. I’m a Hillary supporter and let’s admit it, the media avoided dealing with the hard questions and issues, which didn’t pay off. By ranking ‘legitimacy’ you’ll just introduce more conspiracy theories.”
Several other employees offered suggestions for how to avoid “accusations of conspiracy or bias” from conservative Google users, such as increasing the visibility of originally reported information and including links to critiques of political pieces to help people make informed decisions.
“Give people a comprehensive but effectively summarized view of the information, not context-free rage-inducing sound-bytes,” Google engineer Mike Brauwerman said.
“We’re working on providing users with context around stories so that they can know the bigger picture,” added Google’s vice president of engineering, David Besbris.
“We can play a role in providing the full story and educate them about all sides,” he added. “This doesn’t have to be filtering and can be useful to everyone.”
Similar calls for assisting users in their search for credible political news culminated in the introduction of Google’s fact-check feature at the end of 2017. But, Hasson explains, the online tool was incredibly short-lived.
Not only did the fact-check feature target conservative outlets almost exclusively, it was also blatantly wrong. Google’s fact check repeatedly attributed false claims to those outlets, even though they demonstrably never made those claims.
Google pulled the faulty fact-check program in January, crediting TheDCNF’s investigation for the decision.
In the wake of The Daily Caller’s latest investigation into the suppression of conservative outlets, a Google spokeswoman denied that Byer’s exchange with his fellow employees led to any sort of foul play.
“This post shows that far from suppressing Breitbart and Daily Caller, we surfaced these sites regularly in our products. Furthermore, it shows that we value providing people with the full view on stories from a variety of sources,” she said in an email.
“Google has never manipulated its search results or modified any of its products to promote a particular political ideology,” she continued. “Our processes and policies do not allow for any manipulation of search results to promote political ideologies.”
Hasson points out that since the 2016 election, there have been other discoveries that suggest Google attempted to “manipulate search results for political ends.”
After Trump announced his initial travel ban in January 2017, Google employees discussed ways to manipulate search results in order to push back against the president’s order.
A group of employees brainstormed ways to counter “islamophobic, algorithmically biased results from search terms ‘Islam’, ‘Muslim’, ‘Iran’, etc,” as well as “prejudiced, algorithmically biased search results from search terms ‘Mexico’, ‘Hispanic’, ‘Latino’, etc.”
Speaking to The Daily Caller back in September, President Trump said he believes Google and Facebook were conspiring to influence election outcomes.
“I think they already have,” Trump said, adding, “I mean the true interference in the last election was that — if you look at all, virtually all of those companies are super liberal companies in favor of Hillary Clinton.”
In recent months, Google has had to correct search results that labeled a Republican women’s group “enablers” and falsely listed “Nazism” as a belief of the California Republican Party. In both cases, Google blamed inaccurate Wikipedia descriptions for the errors.
(H/T: The Daily Caller)