Donald Trump at a rally

White House wades deeper into accusations of left-wing bias at Google

Image credit: Reuters/Joshua Roberts

US President Donald Trump has stepped up his accusations of anti-conservative bias in Google’s search algorithm, most recently claiming that Google promoted former President Barack Obama’s speeches over his own.

Earlier this week, Trump tweeted that Google News – which accumulates and categorises news stories from an enormous range of news outlets – was “rigged” with anti-Trump bias. He wrote that the search engine has hidden positive news stories (“news that is good”) about him while favouring left-wing news outlets running critical stories.

Trump claimed that 96 per cent of Google News stories relating to him were from what he described as left-wing outlets. It is suggested that Trump was influenced by Fox News coverage of a report by conservative blog PJ Media which stated that Google News results are skewed towards left-leaning news coverage. The study classified every mainstream news outlet (aside from the Daily Mail, Fox News, Wall Street Journal and the Economist) as left-wing, and mentioned that none of the top Trump-related stories were from sites such as far-right Breitbart or Glenn Beck’s TheBlaze. PJ Media acknowledged its report as “not scientific”.

Trump said that Google had taken advantage of people, and that the alleged issue “will be addressed”. He has since been using the hashtag #StopTheBias, which has been picked up by other right-wing figures claiming anti-conservative bias online.

The White House’s lead economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, briefly told reporters earlier this week that federal regulations of Google search results were under consideration. In a more recent Oval Office interview, Trump commented that the influence of Google, Facebook and Amazon presented him with a "very antitrust situation", but declined to comment on the possibility of breaking up the companies. Trump previously criticised EU-backed action against these internet giants for their anti-competitive behaviours.

 

Google keeps its ever-changing search algorithms very strictly secret, largely in order to avoid gaming by blogs and news outlets, although matching keywords, originality, popularity (as measured by backlinks and shares), and a strong, well-established reputation are thought to push news outlets up the search rankings. The top handful of news outlets listed in search results tend to receive increased traffic.

In a statement, Google said: “When users type queries into the Google Search bar, our goal is to make sure they receive the most relevant answers in a matter of seconds. Search is not used to set a political agenda and we don’t bias our results toward any political ideology.

“Every year, we issue hundreds of improvements to our algorithms to ensure they surface high-quality content in response to users’ queries. We continually work to improve Google search and we never rank search results to manipulate political sentiment.”

In a comment piece published on Inc.com, search engine optimisation specialist Brian Hart wrote that: “The [search algorithms] do not take political affiliation into account. If they did, search engine optimisation folks like myself would have figured that out in a heartbeat and found ways to monetise that knowledge. Trust me.”

Evgeny Chereshnev, CEO of Biolink.Tech, commented that: “It’s not fair to say that tech giants are either left or right-wing. It’s a case of ‘don’t shoot the messenger’. Google’s crawlers index every article that exists on the internet, including those on Twitter and other social platforms.

“I think what we’re seeing here is a misunderstanding about how the distribution of news actually works. I don’t think President Trump understands how a search engine works and that they are topic agnostic; they simply show what is hot right now.”

The most recent attacks from Trump came when he accused Google of promoting State of the Union address speeches made by Barack Obama over his own, tweeting that: “For years, Google promoted President Obama’s State of the Union on its homepage. When President Trump took office, Google stopped.”

Google has stated that it did promote Trump’s first State of the Union address in 2018 on its homepage, but never features a new President’s first address to Congress, which is not technically a State of the Union address.

Trump’s attack on the world’s largest search engine follow his recent attacks on social networks and other sites hosting user content; he claimed that Twitter was “shadow banning” conservative commentators (which Twitter has denied) following a clampdown on hate speech and misinformation online. Among other far-right commentators, InfoWars host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones has been removed from Facebook, Spotify, YouTube, Apple and other platforms. Jones has now claimed that he is advising Trump on internet censorship.

Executives representing Facebook, Google and Twitter are expected to appear in Congress next week to face questioning over claims of anti-right bias on their platforms.

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