‘Don’t Be Evil’ Axis: Google Blacklisting Conservative Search Results

‘Don’t Be Evil’ Axis: Google Blacklisting Conservative Search Results

Google maintains a ‘blacklist’ of politically sensitive search terms, and Google’s overwhelmingly left-wing staff manually manipulates search results.
Jeremy Carl
By

A recent bombshell report from Breitbart’s Allum Bokhari, based on leaked internal corporate discussions, provides what a Google employee called a “smoking gun” regarding Google’s political bias—and how Google has deceived the public about how it handles user searches.

The article revealed that Google maintains a “blacklist” of politically sensitive search terms, and manually manipulates search results for these terms in a way that seems appropriate to Google’s overwhelmingly left-wing staff. Furthermore, the appearance of some items on this blacklist appears to be driven directly from complaints from the left-wing media.

While the establishment tech press (Ars Technica, Tech Crunch, etc.) studiously ignored the story, prominent conservatives such as Donald Trump Jr., Brad Parscale (President Trump’s campaign manager), Matt Drudge, Michelle Malkin, and Dennis Prager, along with senators like Josh Hawley (already showing himself to be a conservative star on these issues in his first month in the Senate) and Marsha Blackburn (a tech policy star when she was in the House) were quick to understand the story’s broader significance.

What is perhaps most notable about these revelations is that they seem to directly contradict the testimony of Google CEO Sundar Pichai that “we don’t manually intervene on any search result,” leaving Pichai open to charges of perjury, and Google, at the very least, open to a strong case of deceptive trade practices.

Of course many of us in Silicon Valley know that these revelations are just the tip of a massive iceberg. In other words, no matter how bad this looks for Google, the reality is actually worse.

It is also worth noting that the article that gave rise to the document leak appeared in the left-wing online magazine Slate. It complained about alleged bias in YouTube’s search results for the term “abortion.” This article was written as part of a program called FutureTense, a “partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University.”

In reference to Google’s original “Don’t be evil” corporate model, perhaps we should call this unholy alliance between the left-wing media, academia, and big tech companies like Google, the “Axis of Don’t Be Evil.” Are Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey and the GOP legislature okay with state dollars being used for partisan purposes in this way?

Slate reporter April Glaser, whose previous job was working with the Electronic Frontier Foundation on net neutrality, found that YouTube search results on the sensitive subject of abortion were not being rank-ordered in a way that she personally approved. She then emailed YouTube  “Asking why anti-abortion videos saturated the search results for ‘abortion,’ and if the platform thought accurate, health-focused information had a place there.” Within days, Google’s search results for abortion changed, with top results formerly mentioned by conservative sources such as Ben Shapiro or pro-life physicians being replaced by liberal ones such as BuzzFeed.

But, of course, what information is accurate or health-based is highly subjective. Furthermore, it is hardly surprising that those looking for videos on abortion might be drawn to more graphic and conservative content, considering the mainstream media’s unwillingness to display the physical realities of the abortion procedure and the popularity of YouTube with people whose perspectives are not shared by the left-wing “mainstream” media.

None of this seems to have occurred to Glaser, who proceeded to make fairly standard liberal arguments for liberal abortion policy. In the wake of the Slate article, an internal discussion on Google’s message boards revealed that abortion is one of many key terms in Google’s blacklist file, which covers an array ranging from queries about corrupt leftist Rep. Maxine Waters to controversial anti-gun activist David Hogg.

The undisclosed creation and maintenance of such a blacklist is a remarkably poor decision on Google’s part. According to one of the Google censors participating in the discussion, supposedly only content that would be “hyperbolic” or “offensive” is prone to such censorship. But do we really want to leave such decisions up to an overwhelmingly liberal corporate monopoly whose employees were more likely to donate to Green Party than to Trump?

This sort of editorial role might also be a violation of Google’s obligation under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which exempts companies like Google from liability for content on their platforms provided they are not acting as a publisher—which Google’s activities would certainly seem to be doing.

“Now these words are highly subjective and nobody denies that,” said a Google censor on the leaked discussion. But is there any evidence that Google has even made a vaguely good-faith effort to make sure that such decisions are being made in a politically balanced fashion? Google does not release any data on its censors. What percentage are Trump supporters, what percentage would even call themselves conservatives? Nor do we even know how large Google’s blacklists are.

There is simply no evidence that Google’s alleged efforts at balance are done in anything resembling good faith. The Google censor wrote of the blacklists that “Hopefully this isn’t surprising or particularly controversial.” But Google is an effectively monopoly platform with a far-left orientation and no transparency. Google choosing to make secret editorial decisions about the “appropriateness” of fully legal content on its platform should be very controversial.

It would be far better for big tech companies to get out of the deplatforming and political favoritism business and to simply allow all content on their services that doesn’t violate the First Amendment. Google’s algorithms to rank political content should be treated the same way they treat other content—not subject to overt political manipulation by left-wing media or staff complaints.

It seems Google and other big tech monopolies are incapable of doing the right thing on their own. As these explosive revelations reveal, it is long past time for Congress to stop simply talking about solutions and take legislative steps to rein in big tech’s rampant, politically driven abuses of their monopoly power.

Jeremy Carl, who began his tech career the earliest days of the Web, is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

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