Google Bias Toward Hillary is Denied

Tech giant claims no political intent in steering users from 'criminal' and 'indictment' in Clinton searches, but suspicions swirl

by Kathryn Blackhurst | Updated 11 Jun 2016 at 4:10 PM

A YouTube video suggesting Google might be using a political bias to slant negative search terms associated with Hillary Clinton has prompted a strong defense from the California-based technology company. But serious questions remain.

“The intention is clear: Google is burying potential searches for terms that could have hurt Hillary Clinton in the primary elections over the past several months.”

The seven-minute video, posted on the YouTube channel SourceFed on Thursday, presented the findings of a study that examined Google’s search engine “autocomplete” results. When terms such as “Hillary Clinton criminal” were entered into Google, according to the video’s host and writer, Matt Lieberman, users received search suggestions such as “Hillary Clinton crime reform,” “Hillary Clinton crisis,” and “Hillary Clinton crime bill 1994.”

SourceFed is a pop culture news website owned by Discovery Communications, Inc.

By contrast, said Lieberman, when the same search terms were entered into Bing or Yahoo search engines, the results that came back included “crimes,” “criminal” and “criminal investigation” — all terms that did not appear in Google’s results.

“The intention is clear: Google is burying potential searches for terms that could have hurt Hillary Clinton in the primary elections over the past several months,” said Lieberman in the video.

Lieberman took the investigation even further by examining different, if more unique, search terms in order to make his case. Entering the search term “Hillary Clinton ind.” into the three largest search engines, he found the word “indictment” appeared only on Bing and Yahoo search engines — while Google offered “Indiana,” “India,” “independent voters” and “Indiana campaign” as popular search results.

The discrepancy didn’t stop there, according to Lieberman in the SourceFed video.

In examining search results for the terms “Donald Trump rac” and “Bernie Sanders soc,” Lieberman said Google’s autocomplete results promptly offered the negative results “racist” and “socialist” to accompany those terms. Lieberman said the search disparities call for some obvious questions: Was Google intentionally altering its search engine results to allow for a more favorable view of Clinton? If so — how much did Google’s slanting affect the results of the presidential primaries over the past months?

(Watch the SourceFed video for yourself, just below.)

Donald Trump, the presumptive GOP nominee, blasted Google in a statement sent to Business Insider, calling the search results "very, very dishonest."

"If this is true, it is a disgrace that Google would do that," Trump wrote. "They should let it float and allow people [to] see how crooked [Hillary Clinton] really is."

Lieberman echoed Trump's concern.

"What we’ve discovered about Google’s potential actions is shocking and deeply disturbing," said Lieberman. "I no longer have the trust that I once did in the company," he concluded. "If it is proven that the intentional manipulation of search results and recommendations has occurred, then Google and Eric Schmidt are in the clearest of wrongs here."

Schmidt, a former CEO of Google and executive chairman of Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., has ties to Hillary Clinton through his funding of The Groundwork, a data analysis company that supports the Clinton campaign, according to SourceFed. The campaign’s chief technology officer, Stephanie Hannon, is also a former Google executive, SourceFed noted.

In response to the allegations, Tamar Yehoshua, vice president of product management at Google, wrote a blog post claiming the company’s autocomplete algorithm avoids suggesting offensive search terms when paired with a person’s name.

"The autocomplete algorithm is designed to avoid completing a search for a person’s name with terms that are offensive or disparaging," Yehoshua wrote. "We made this change a while ago following feedback that autocomplete too often predicted offensive, hurtful or inappropriate queries about people. This filter operates according to the same rules no matter who the person is."

As the debate intensifies over Google's search engine programming protocols, the company's credibility is at risk with U.S. customers over these confounding user-based technology issues. Google's search engine controversy is just the latest example of political bias across technological and social platforms to surface this year.

Last month, Facebook juggled a spate of accusations when the social media site was accused in a report by Gizmodo of using bias in its "trending topics" feature to censor conservative viewpoints and stories.

In an effort to smooth over the scandal, CEO Mark Zuckerberg met last month with several prominent conservatives at Facebook's Menlo Park, California, headquarters and made changes to the "trending topics" platform.

"We've built Facebook to be a platform for all ideas. Our community's success depends on everyone feeling comfortable sharing anything they want. It doesn't make sense for our mission or our business to suppress political content or prevent anyone from seeing what matters most to them," Zuckerberg wrote on Facebook in response to the charges.

Related: Facebook CEO Vows to Level Playing Field

"The reality is, conservatives and Republicans have always been an important part of Facebook. Donald Trump has more fans on Facebook than any other presidential candidate. And Fox News drives more interactions on its Facebook page than any other news outlet in the world. It's not even close."

The SourceFed video alleging the Google bias toward Hillary had accumulated over 15 million views on Facebook and nearly 300,000 on YouTube by Friday evening.

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