reports that tech giant Google has announced plans to prevent misinformation spreading ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November by blocking certain autocomplete search suggestions. The autocomplete program regularly recommends full queries to users once they begin typing words, but Google now says it will remove predictions that could be seen as claims for or against candidates or political parties.
Google also plans to pull claims from the autocomplete program about participation in the election including statements about voting methods, requirements, the status of voting locations, and election security.
If a user types for example “you can vote” into Google’s search engine, autocomplete may suggest a query that includes misleading information according to the company. Bloomberg claims that typing the phrase into Google recently yielded the suggestion “You can vote yourself into socialism,” as the top query. According to Google, this search autocomplete is considered election misinformation.
David Graff, the senior director of global policy & standards at Google, commented on the decision stating: “That might mean some perfectly benign predictions get swept up in this. We think that’s the most responsible approach, particularly when it comes to elections-related queries.”
reported as far back as 2016 that psychologist Robert Epstein of the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology had conducted studies that appeared to show that Google manipulated search results.
Epstein and his colleagues tested hundreds of different response terms related to the 2016 presidential election using Google Search, Yahoo, and Bing. The searches were conducted through proxy servers to make it hard for the companies to identify the researchers and personalize results and suggestions.
Epstein stated in his report:
It is somewhat difficult to get the Google search bar to suggest negative searches related to Mrs. Clinton or to make any Clinton-related suggestions when one types a negative search term. Bing and Yahoo, on the other hand, often show a number of negative suggestions in response to the same search terms. Bing and Yahoo seem to be showing us what people are actually searching for; Google is showing us something else — but what, and for what purpose?
As for Google Trends, as Lieberman reported, Google indeed withholds negative search terms for Mrs. Clinton even when such terms show high popularity in Trends. We have also found that Google often suggests positive search terms for Mrs. Clinton even when such terms are nearly invisible in Trends. The widely held belief, reinforced by Google’s own documentation, that Google’s search suggestions are based on “what other people are searching for” seems to be untrue in many instances.
Google tries to explain away such findings by saying its search bar is programmed to avoid suggesting searches that portray people in a negative light. As far as we can tell, this claim is false; Google suppresses negative suggestions selectively, not across the board. It is easy to get autocomplete to suggest negative searches related to prominent people, one of whom happens to be Mrs. Clinton’s opponent.
Epstein attached screenshots that showed the various autocomplete suggestions from various search engines and how widely they varied.
The term “Hillary Clinton is awesome,” was suggested ahead of “Hillary Clinton is a liar” despite the negative search term being far more popular according to Google Trends.
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Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan or contact via secure email at the address firstname.lastname@example.org