The folks over at The Daily Caller dropped an important, but completely unsurprising, bombshell today when they released an exclusive report on Google’s desire to bury conservative news sites in their search results.
According to the report, in response to President Donald Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election, Google employees debated whether they should bury conservative media outlets in the company’s search function.
Internal communications obtained by The Daily Caller showed that their site and Breitbart were specifically singled out as outlets to bury.
The Daily Caller – Communications obtained by TheDCNF show that internal Google discussions went beyond expressing remorse over Clinton’s loss to actually discussing ways Google could prevent Trump from winning again.
“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 reviewed by TheDCNF.
Byer falsely labeled The Daily Caller and Breitbart as “opinion blogs” and urged his coworkers to reduce their visibility 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.
“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 continued.
“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.”
While there’s little doubt the above is completely in-line with the mainstream thinking at Google, there were apparently some employees who expressed concern with the approach.
“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” Uri Dekel, a Google employee said in reply to Byer. “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.”
“I follow a lot of right wing folks on social networks you could tell something was brewing,” Dekel 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.”
Other Google employees also rejected Byer’s suggestion and offered alternative courses of action.
“What I believe we can do, technically, that avoids the accusations of conspiracy or bias from people who ultimately have a right and obligation to decide what they want to believe, is to get better at displaying the ‘ripples’ and copy-pasta, to trace information to its source, to link to critiques of those sources, and let people decide what sources they believe,” Google engineer, Mike Brauwerman, suggested.
“Give people a comprehensive but effectively summarized view of the information, not context-free rage-inducing sound-bytes,” he added.
“We’re working on providing users with context around stories so that they can know the bigger picture,” David Besbris, vice president of engineering at Google, said. “We can play a role in providing the full story and educate them about all sides. This doesn’t have to be filtering and can be useful to everyone.”
With other employees also advocating for the idea of adding “contextual information” about media sources in their search results, Google did add a “fact check” feature at the end of 2017, but it didn’t last long.
That’s because the fact check feature, unsurprisingly, almost exclusively targeted conservative outlets, and even attributed false claims to those outlets repeatedly, despite the fact that it can be proven that those claims were never made.
In an email to The Daily Caller, a Google spokeswoman claimed the conversations about burying conservative news sites did not lead to the manipulation of the company’s search results for political purposes.
“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,” the spokeswoman wrote.
“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.”
Of course, despite the company’s claims, this conversation by it’s employees isn’t the first instance in which some Google employees have sought to manipulate search results for political reasons.
Back in January 2017, after President Trump announced his initial travel ban to some of the most terrorist-riddled countries on Earth, Google employees discussed manipulating search results in order to push back against the President’s policy.
Earlier this month, Google’s search results labeled a Republican women’s group as “enablers.”
And Google was also forced to apologize in May after search results for the California Republican Party falsely listed “Nazism” as one of the state party’s ideologies.
So there is definitely nothing to see here.