Donald Trump’s Claims That Google “Suppresses” Conservative Voices Is Utter Nonsense

Yesterday US President Donald Trump went on one of his famous Tweetstorms. But this time it was about Google and the quality of their search results:

Let me translate for you. What he’s saying is that Google slants their search results against him. That’s a heck of an accusation and one that is not the least bit true. But to explain why, I have to explain where this came from.

Trump is likely referencing an article by PJ Media’s Paula Bolyard published over the weekend with this headline: “96 Percent of Google Search Results for ‘Trump’ News Are from Liberal Media Outlets.” Never heard of PJ Media? Up until 6AM yesterday, neither had I. Fortunately there’s a Wikipedia page on them. But in short, PJ Media is an American conservative news, opinion, and commentary collaborative blog. Which means that they’re likely aligned with Donald Trump. Keep that in mind as I go forward.

What these people did is to the Google “News” tab, typed in “Trump News” and then, using conservative journalist Sharyl Attkisson’s media bias chart (which you can have another discussion about how accurate that is), analyzed the publications that popped up. Then they served up this conclusion:

I expected to see some skewing of the results based on my extensive experience with Google, but I was not prepared for the blatant prioritization of left-leaning and anti-Trump media outlets. Looking at the first page of search results, I discovered that CNN was the big winner, scoring two of the first ten results. Other left-leaning sites that appeared on the first page were CBS, The Atlantic, CNBC, The New Yorker, Politico, Reuters, and USA Today (the last two outlets on this list could arguably be considered more centrist than the others).

Not a single right-leaning site appeared on the first page of search results.

And the author also says this in the same article:

Google is secretive about its algorithm, although the company does say that a variety of factors — around 200 of them, according to Google — go into how pages are ranked. In fact, a whole science has developed — called search engine optimization (SEO) — that purports to help sites become more visible in Google search results. Factors such as the relevance of the topic, the design of the website, internal and external links, and the way articles are written and formatted all can affect a site’s Google traffic. Google is constantly tweaking their algorithm, and a website’s traffic prospects can rise or fall depending on the changes. PJ Media’s Google search traffic, for example, dropped precipitously after a May 2017 algorithm change. We have yet to recover the lost traffic. Other conservative sites have reported similar drops in traffic.

The author is basically saying that because we don’t know exactly how the Google news tab is populated, there’s nothing that rules out that the suppression of right wing voices  couldn’t be plausible. Thus a conspiracy theroy is born.

However, I’d like to point something out. A simple Google search will lead you to things like this and this which describes how their search algorithm works. While those are from third parties,  Google themselves has this which was also found via a Google search. But let me cut through all of that and get to the point that you care about. Google has an economic need to provide results that users find helpful. That way they will stick around, maybe read an ad, or click on said ad, and most importantly come back the next time they need to search something. And the best way to do that is to prioritizing results from trusted news outlets with large audiences. Which for the record, when I tried to replicate PJ Media’s experiment, I got results from Fox News and Breitbart early in the search results. And they are not exactly left leaning outlets nor do they have small audiences. The bottom line is that if people were not able to find what they were looking for via Google, Google would lose money and we’d be all using Bing. That alone should call into question the accuracy of this report from PJ Media which Trump is basing his argument on as it defies common sense.

And then this line from the article:

While not scientific, the results suggest a pattern of bias against right-leaning content.

News Flash! This wasn’t a study done with any sort of valid methodology behind it that could be replicated, validated, etc. Thus you have to take it with a grain of salt because it’s not worth much and we shouldn’t be talking about this nonsense.

Too bad we are because we have much better things to talk about.


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