Google Employees Contemplated Skewing Search Results To Bury Conservative Media Reporting

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Posted: Nov 30, 2018 8:00 PM
Google Employees Contemplated Skewing Search Results To Bury Conservative Media Reporting

During the 2016 election, Google contemplated on whether or not they should change their algorithms to bury various conservative news websites. Specifically, Google wanted to bury stories put out by Breitbart and the Daily Caller, documents obtained by the Daily Caller News Foundation revealed. 

Internal communications show that Google employees were distraught by Donald Trump's win. They were banking on Hillary Clinton winning the presidency.

Here's how the discussions went, according to the documents DCNF received:

Google engineer Scott Byer, Nov. 9, 2016: 

This was an election of false equivalencies, and Google, sadly, had a hand in it. 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. I think we have a responsibility to expose the quality and truthfulness of sources – because not doing so hides real information under loud noises. 

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.

Engineer Uri Deke's reply to Byerl:

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.

I follow a lot of right wing folks on social networks you could tell something was brewing. 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. 

Byer's reply to Deke:

Too many times, Breitbart is just echoing a demonstrably made up story.

That happens at MSNBC, too. I don’t want a political judgement. The desire is to break the myth feedback loop, the false equivalency, instead of the current amplification of it.

Google engineer Mike Bruwerman chimed in:

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.

Give people a comprehensive but effectively summarized view of the information, not context-free rage-inducing sound-bytes.

Vice President of Engineer, David Desbris, responded:

We’re working on providing users with context around stories so that they can know the bigger picture.

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.

According to a Google spokesperson, the conversation never lead to any manipulation.

“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 told TheDCNF in an email.

“Google has never manipulated its search results or modified any of its products to promote a particular political ideology. Our processes and policies do not allow for any manipulation of search results to promote political ideologies.”

It is important to note that Google decided to combat the "issue" by launching their "fact checker" tool at the end of 2017. The kicker? It targeted mostly conservative websites. It was short lived and eventually pulled in January.