In prepared remarks, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump pushed the debunked claim that Google is “suppressing” negative information about Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton in its search results. The claim, which has been debunked by mainstream outlets and experts as “utter nonsense,” originated in right-wing media and was also pushed by a Russian pro-Kremlin news site and the website of Trump’s campaign CEO.
Trump Claims Google Is Hiding Negative News About Clinton
Trump: Google’s Search Engine Is “Suppressing The Bad News About” Clinton. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump during a September 28 event claimed that a Google poll “‘has us leading Hillary Clinton by two points nationwide … despite the fact that Google search engine was suppressing the bad news about Hillary Clinton,’” according to The New York Times. The Times noted that the claim “was in the first paragraph of his prepared remarks for delivery.” From the September 28 article:
While seeking to publicize his success in unscientific online polls after the presidential debate on Monday, Donald J. Trump on Wednesday promoted an unsubstantiated and debunked conspiracy theory about Google suppressing negative news in search results about his opponent.
“The Google poll has us leading Hillary Clinton by two points nationwide, and that’s despite the fact that Google search engine was suppressing the bad news about Hillary Clinton,” Mr. Trump told a crowd here, referring to an Independent Journal Review-Google Consumer Surveys poll. “How about that?”
Mr. Trump’s comment sounded like an off-the-cuff line, and he has been known to float falsehoods frequently in his stump speech, often in riffs of his own. But the conspiracy was in the first paragraph of his prepared remarks for delivery. [The New York Times, 9/28/16]
Trump’s Conspiracy Theory Comes From Right-Wing Media
NY Times: Trump’s Claim Began With Video From Conservative Outlet. The New York Times noted that the “conspiracy theory began with a video from the conservative outlet SourceFed that went viral this year.” [The New York Times, 9/28/16]
Wash. Times: SourceFed’s “Explosive Report” Shows Google Manipulates Searches For Clinton. The Washington Times hyped SourceFed’s claim, calling it an “explosive report” and claiming that the video showed that “when typing ‘Hillary Clinton cri,’ Google’s auto-complete function brings up as its top choice ‘Hillary Clinton crime reform,’ even though competing search engines Bing and Yahoo show the most popular search topics are ‘Hillary Clinton criminal charges’ and ‘Hillary Clinton crime.’” From the June 9 article:
An explosive report released Thursday suggests that Google manipulated its search engine to boost Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton by burying unflattering stories about her.
For example, when typing “Hillary Clinton cri,” Google’s auto-complete function brings up as its top choice “Hillary Clinton crime reform,” even though competing search engines Bing and Yahoo show the most popular search topics are “Hillary Clinton criminal charges” and “Hillary Clinton crime.”
In the video, Mr. Lieberman emphasized that SourceFed was not accusing Google of any crimes, calling the manipulation “deeply unethical and wrong but not illegal,” and adding that there is no evidence to suggest collusion between the Clinton campaign and Google.
On the other hand, Mr. Lieberman did say that “there are a stunning number of links between Google and her campaign,” starting with former Google CEO Eric Schmidt, an active Clinton backer who runs a Clinton campaign data-analysis contracting firm. [The Washington Times, 6/9/16]
InfoWars Expanded Conspiracy, Claiming Google Was Covering Up “Clinton Body Count” Searches. InfoWars in August hyped The Washington Times report, adding that Google had “altered its search algorithm to prevent searches for ‘Clinton body count’ from auto-completing,” claiming SourceFed in June “revealed ... that Google was indeed manipulating its search results to bury unflattering stories about Hillary.” From the August 22 article:
Google has altered its search algorithm to prevent searches for “Clinton body count” from auto-completing, despite the term auto-completing when typed in on virtually any other search engine.
Back in June it was revealed by SourceFed that Google was indeed manipulating its search results to bury unflattering stories about Hillary.
“For example, when typing “Hillary Clinton cri,” Google’s auto-complete function brings up as its top choice “Hillary Clinton crime reform,” even though competing search engines Bing and Yahoo show the most popular search topics are “Hillary Clinton criminal charges” and “Hillary Clinton crime,” reported the Washington Times. [InfoWars, 8/22/16]
Drudge Report Promoted InfoWars Story: “GOOGLE Hides 'Clinton Body Count'...”
[Drudge Report, 8/23/16]
Fox’s Cheryl Casone: Google “Accused Of Hiding Negative Stories About” Clinton. Fox’s Cheryl Casone hyped the InfoWars article, saying Google was “being accused of hiding negative stories about Hillary [Clinton] and her campaign by changing its algorithm to bury stories like the ‘Clinton body count’ story.” From the August 24 edition of Fox News’ Fox & Friends First:
HEATHER CHILDERS (CO-HOST): Is the internet’s number one search engine trying to sway the presidential election?
ABBY HUNTSMAN (CO-HOST): Cheryl Casone from our sister network, Fox Business, here with what Google is now being accused of. Cheryl, good morning.
CHERYL CASONE: Yeah, good morning, ladies. Well Google is being accused of hiding negative stories about Hillary [Clinton] and her campaign by changing its algorithm to bury stories like the “Clinton body count” story. That's according to website InfoWars. If a Google user types in “Clinton body,” they get car repair shop results instead of a story that talks about a list of people tied to the Clintons who have died under mysterious circumstances over the last three decades. Now, the latest story was the death of DNC staffer Seth Rich, who was murdered last month in an apparent robbery. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange has hinted that Rich was his source but has made no further comments about the case. That murder, we should say, remains unsolved. Now if you type in “Donald Trump” or “Bernie Sanders” into Google, Google will show all stories positive and negative. The company declining to comment on this latest allegation. [Fox News, Fox & Friends First, 8/24/16]
Conspiracy Theory Was Revived Again By Russian Media And Pushed By The Website Of Trump’s Campaign CEO
Sputnik News: Study Shows “Google's Search Suggestions Are Biased In Favor Of Hillary Clinton.” Sputnik News claimed in a piece headlined “Research Proves Google Manipulates Millions to Favor Clinton” that a study confirmed SourceFed’s allegation, writing “it seems reasonable to conjecture that Google employees manually suppress negative search suggestions relating to Clinton in order to reduce the number of searches people conduct that will expose them to anti-Clinton content.” The New York Times noted that the conspiracy had “died down” until Sputnik pushed it and that the outlet is “run by the Russian government-controlled news agency Rossiya Segodnya.” From the September 12 Sputnik News article:
In this exclusive report, distinguished research psychologist Robert Epstein explains the new study and reviews evidence that Google's search suggestions are biased in favor of Hillary Clinton. He estimates that biased search suggestions might be able to shift as many as 3 million votes in the upcoming presidential election in the US.
In June of this year, Sourcefed released a video claiming that Google's search suggestions — often called “autocomplete” suggestions — were biased in favor of Mrs. Clinton. The video quickly went viral: the full 7-minute version has now been viewed more than a million times on YouTube, and an abridged 3-minute version has been viewed more than 25 million times on Facebook.
Given Google's strong support for Mrs. Clinton, it seems reasonable to conjecture that Google employees manually suppress negative search suggestions relating to Clinton in order to reduce the number of searches people conduct that will expose them to anti-Clinton content. They appear to work a bit less hard to suppress negative search suggestions for Mr. Trump, Senator Sanders, Senator Cruz, and other prominent people. [Sputnik News, 9/12/16; The New York Times, 9/28/16]
Breitbart News: “Google Search Bias Protecting Hillary Clinton Confirmed In Experiment.” Breitbart News' Jack Hadfield wrote that the study in Sputnik “reveals evidence that Google is manipulating search results related to Hillary Clinton” and that the report “‘generally supports’” SourceFed’s allegations. Trump’s campaign CEO, Stephen Bannon, was Breitbart’s chairman through August. From the September 13 article:
In a report published by Sputnik News, psychologist Robert Epstein reveals evidence that Google is manipulating search results related to Hillary Clinton that may “shift as many as 3 million votes” in the upcoming presidential election.
Earlier this year, Matt Lieberman of Sourcefed published a video that claimed Google’s autocomplete suggestions were biased in favour of Clinton. The video went viral, with an abridged version of it being viewed over 25 million times on Facebook.
Epstein set out with his colleagues at the American Institute for Behavioral Research (AIBRT) to investigate the claims. They concluded that whilst the investigation is ongoing, their report “generally supports” Lieberman’s video. [Breitbart News, 9/13/16; Media Matters, 8/17/16]
The Conspiracy Theory Has Been Debunked
CNNMoney: Claim That Google Is Manipulating Searches For Clinton Is “Utter Nonsense.” CNNMoney’s David Goldman wrote that the conspiracy theory was “utter nonsense” and based on “a deep misunderstanding about how Google works.” The article noted that, “By typing in just ‘Hillary Clinton,’ Google presents plenty of autocomplete suggestions with negative connotations, including ‘email’ and ‘Benghazi.’” Added Goldman, “To say that Google is trying to put Clinton in a favorable light by hiding negative search results just isn't true.” From the June 15 article:
Despite what you might have seen online, Google is not manipulating its search results to favor Hillary Clinton.
But that's not a fact -- it's utter nonsense. SourceFed's video stems from a deep misunderstanding about how Google works.
By typing in just “Hillary Clinton,” Google presents plenty of autocomplete suggestions with negative connotations, including “email” and “Benghazi.”
Searches for those two terms are way more popular than either of the cherry-picked searches that SourceFed included in its video. Google understands that “Hillary Clinton email” and “Hillary Clinton Benghazi” are synonymous with potential criminal charges or indictments, Drysdale said.
To say that Google is trying to put Clinton in a favorable light by hiding negative search results just isn't true.
Bing and Yahoo, by contrast, don't have as complex an algorithm as Google. They interpret search queries far more literally than Google does, which is why they present results that appear to be disparaging to Clinton.
SourceFed claims to have found a smoking gun, but its evidence just doesn't hold up. [CNNMoney.com, 6/15/16]
Search Engine Optimization Company CEO: “Google Does NOT Favor Hillary Clinton.” Rhea Drysdale, the CEO of a company that specializes in search engine optimization, noted in a piece on Medium that typing “Donald Trump ra-” into Google does not “lead to anything about rape,” even though Ivana Trump accused him of rape during their divorce, and typing “Donald Trump la-” does not bring up results about his many lawsuits. She wrote that “according to [the conspiracy theory’s] logic, Google must be favoring Donald Trump as well,” concluding, “The story isn’t that Google favors Hillary Clinton, it’s that Google is a complex algorithm that presents information in many ways and at this point that includes artificial intelligence!” From the June 9 blog post:
Search trends are a significant factor in how Google Autocomplete works — this is the entire basis for SourceFed’s claim and yet according to their logic, Google must be favoring Donald Trump as well.
I’m selectively choosing words that I think people should be searching on and I’m throwing them into Google and Google Trends to find exceptions that support my story. The difference is that I’m presenting the other side of the argument and I’d like to know what kind of agenda SourceFed has against Hillary Clinton and/or Google that they didn’t take literally two minutes to search for similar stories where Donald Trump was concerned.
The story isn’t that Google favors Hillary Clinton, it’s that Google is a complex algorithm that presents information in many ways and at this point that includes artificial intelligence!
I’m not going to pretend that I understand everything about Google, because that’s impossible for anyone but Google’s engineers. However, I can say with certainty that Google does NOT favor Hillary Clinton. [Medium, 6/9/16]