Google Employees Debated Burying Conservative Media in Search Results After 2016 Election

Google Employees Debated Burying Conservative Media in Search Results After 2016 Election
A Google sign during the WAIC (World Artificial Intelligence Conference) in Shanghai on Sept. 17, 2018. (Aly Song/Reuters)
Zachary Stieber

Google employees debated demoting conservative media outlets in its search results after President Donald Trump won the 2016 election over Hillary Clinton, according to internal chats.

The chats were obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation and acknowledged as real by a Google spokeswoman.

A Google engineer named Scott Byer appears to have started the discussion, lamenting that Clinton lost.

“This was an election of false equivalencies, and Google, sadly, had a hand in it,” he wrote in a Nov. 9, 2016 post. “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.”

He later claimed that if Google took certain steps, they could make sure the Democratic candidate would win the 2020 election.

“Let’s make sure that we reverse things in four years—demographics will be on our side,” he said.

Google's booth is pictured at the Global Mobile Internet Conference (GMIC) 2017 in Beijing, China, on April 28, 2017. (Jason Lee/Reuters)
Google's booth is pictured at the Global Mobile Internet Conference (GMIC) 2017 in Beijing, China, on April 28, 2017. (Jason Lee/Reuters)

Even some of Byer’s self-described liberal colleagues were concerned about his missive.

Uri Dekel, another engineer, said he was a Clinton supporter but argued manipulating search results wouldn’t be the right step to take.

“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,” Dekel wrote in a reply to Byer.

“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 employees said Google could add context to stories to help “educate” users.

A Google spokeswoman told the foundation the post was real but argued Google never took any action.

“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 said in an email.

Leaks Continue

The chat was the latest in a string of leaks coming out of Google.

For instance, in September, a leaked video published by Breitbart showed top leadership openly bemoaning Clinton’s loss and discussing how President Donald Trump’s election “conflicts with many” of the company’s values.

At one point, CFO Ruth Porat said they have an obligation to “fight for what’s right and to never stop fighting for what’s right.”

Dr. Robert Epstein, senior research psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, told The Epoch Times that the video was “extremely disturbing.”

“When a top executive at Google says this, that’s very frightening,” Dr. Epstein said. “They are basically saying, ‘We will use the tools that we have to promote our values.’ To me, that means [Google] will interfere in elections. It’s extremely problematic.”

Research from Harvard University found that search results were not objective, as the company had claimed. In 2017, Google was also fined $2.7 billion by the European Union for biased search results.
And Google employees discussed how to adjust search results after the Trump administration passed a travel ban affecting multiple Muslim-majority “countries of concern” that were labeled as such by the Obama administration for terrorist activity, according to leaked communications. Employees proposed ways to counter what they considered “islamophobic, algorithmically biased results from search terms ‘Islam’, ‘Muslim’, ‘Iran’, etc.” and ‘prejudiced, algorithmically biased search results from search terms ‘Mexico’, ‘Hispanic’, ‘Latino’, etc.’” The Wall Street Journal reported.
The company has also been dealing with the fallout after a secret partnership with China in development of a censored search engine in the communist-run country was leaked, sparking outrage from the public, lawmakers, and even Google employees.
In another development, Google CEO Sundar Pichai is scheduled to testify before Congress on Dec. 5 as officials examine reported bias by the search engine giant.
Zachary Stieber is a senior reporter for The Epoch Times based in Maryland. He covers U.S. and world news. Contact Zachary at [email protected]
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