Google said it wasn’t biased. Google said it didn’t manually interfere in search results. Google’s CEO said it under oath, before Congress. It still says it, even after a deluge of leaks from inside the company, many published by Breitbart News, contradicted them. Now another investigation, this time from The Wall Street Journal, has contradicted them again.
The investigation examined the various ways in which Google adjusts and manually curates results on its main search engine. This is the very thing that Google claims it does not do, yet the WSJ has conducted dozens of interviews and written thousands of words about the various ways in which it carries out this manipulation.
Some of the items mentioned in the report are obvious, out in the open, as if Google thinks hiding them in plain sight means people won’t notice. For example, “featured snippets” and “knowledge panels,” which now appear at the top of many search results. Google has openly said it adjusts these highlighted results under certain circumstances, for example, if its algorithms accidentally generate “harmful or hateful content” in the snippets.
Google apparently believes it can openly admit to this, while simultaneously claiming it doesn’t manually intervene in search results and is a neutral tech platform rather than a publisher that exercises editorial control (a crucial distinction that allows them to keep financially invaluable legal protections reserved for tech companies).
Then again, Google’s own internal research admits that it is moving away from the role of a platform and towards the role of a publisher. Breitbart News published that leaked document — called, believe it or not, “The Good Censor” — last year.
The Wall Street Journal also reveals some new information about Google search results, such as exposing their leftward tilt. Analysis of search results conducted as part of the investigation shows that after complaints from pro-abortion groups, Google search results for the term “abortion” are now 39 percent comprised of links to the website of Planned Parenthood. This compares to 16 percent for rival search engine DuckDuckGo, and just 14 percent for Microsoft’s Bing.
This too, closely aligns with what Breitbart News has reported in the past. In January this year, Breitbart reported exclusively on leaked material showing that after complaints from a left-wing journalist, Google adjusted search results on YouTube for the term “abortion,” resulting in pro-life content from independent and conservative creators being buried.
Another major thread addressed in the WSJ investigation is Google’s moderation of auto-complete results, the automatically generated search suggestions that appear when you begin typing a word into Google search. Alleged manipulation of these results is the basis of one of the biggest charges of bias against the company, that it buried search suggestions for “Hillary Clinton health” in 2016, when the then-Democrat candidate was facing questions about her mental and physical fitness for office.
Google also faced charges that it buried search results for other negative terms related to the candidate, while not doing the same for Donald Trump. Analysis of search terms by psychologist and search engine expert Robert Epstein appeared to confirm this.
The WSJ report reveals that Google has created blacklists to “weed out more-incendiary suggestions for controversial subjects, such as abortion or immigration, in effect filtering out inflammatory results on high-profile topics.” Testing Google search results for topics like “immigration” and “abortion,” the WSJ found that the results were far less “inflammatory” than those of other search engines.
Google’s representatives have told Congress that the company doesn’t use blacklists or whitelists. Yet Kevin Gibbs, who created auto-complete when he worked for Google as an engineer in 2004, told the WSJ that he included a list of terms that wouldn’t be auto-suggested from the beginning.
Originally intended to curb piracy and disparagement of individuals, the WSJ reports that blacklists have extended to certain news sites. The WSJ reports it has “reviewed a draft policy document from August 2018 that outlines how Google employees should implement an anti-misinformation blacklist aimed at blocking certain publishers from appearing in Google News and other search products.”
The WSJ reports that the blacklists include conservative news websites The Gateway Pundit and the United West, corroborating previous reporting showing the removal of conservative websites on Google search results. And when Breitbart News leaked the Google Tape last year, the WSJ reports it was initially buried on the twelfth page of Google search results for the term “leaked Google video Trump.”
It was only after employees within the company complained about the problem on internal message boards that the video started appearing higher in search results.
Many of the items in the WSJ’s report corroborate what was already beyond doubt — that Google manually interferes in its search results, that it maintains blacklists, and that the result of these efforts is politically biased outcomes. The company has repeatedly told Congress the opposite — but then again, the company has also learned that when it misleads Congress, nothing happens to it.
Are you an insider at Google, Facebook, Twitter or any other tech company who wants to confidentially reveal wrongdoing or political bias at your company? Reach out to Allum Bokhari at his secure email address firstname.lastname@example.org.
Allum Bokhari is the senior technology correspondent at Breitbart News.