It’s not just fake news, Google autocomplete being gamed by right wing

Are right-wing propagandists getting the better of the world’s most-used search engine?

That’s what some academics are saying after a weekend report showed that Google search autocomplete was yielding the following questions: “Are Muslims evil?” “Are women evil?” “Are Jews evil?”

Google is, of course, the first stop for knowledge for a lot of people.

The U.K.-based Observer reported its findings Sunday, and talked to experts who denounced the results. Frank Pasquale, professor of law at the University of Maryland, told the British newspaper that he viewed the search issue as more powerful and insidious than the fake news issue that Facebook and other social networks are facing — fake news is being credited with helping propel Donald Trump to the White House.

The results are “very profound, very troubling,” Pasquale said.

Two days later, the word “evil” no longer autocompletes “are Jews” or  “are women.” But it’s still possible to get “are Muslims bad” when one types in “are Muslims” on Google.

“This is the end for Google pretending to be a neutral platform,” Cathy O’Neil, a data scientist and author, told the Guardian. “It clearly has a terrible problem here and it has to own and acknowledge that.”

When reached for comment by SiliconBeat, a Google spokeswoman sent the following statement:

We’ve received a lot of questions about Autocomplete, and we want to help people understand how it works: Autocomplete predictions are algorithmically generated based on users’ search activity and interests. Users search for such a wide range of material on the web — 15% of searches we see every day are new. Because of this, terms that appear in Autocomplete may be unexpected or unpleasant. We do our best to prevent offensive terms, like porn and hate speech, from appearing, but we don’t always get it right. Autocomplete isn’t an exact science and we’re always working to improve our algorithms.

Jonathan Albright, assistant professor of communications at Elon University, North Carolina, told the Guardian that right-wing websites are winning an “information war” they launched.

From the Guardian:

His research has shown that fake news and extremist sites have created a vast network of links to each other and mainstream sites that has enabled them to game Google’s algorithm. The top eight out of 10 results for the Google search “was Hitler bad?”, for example, are links to Holocaust denial sites including the neo-Nazi site,

The fake news problem has already led to violence, as Queenie Wong wrote Monday. A gunman was arrested over the weekend after firing a rifle inside Comet Ping Pong, a Washington, D.C. pizzeria that was falsely identified by conspiracy theorists as the center of a supposed child sex-trafficking ring run by Hillary Clinton and her campaign manager, John Podesta. “Pizzagate” arose from fake news stories that are being spread by people including President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for national security adviser, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.


Above: Screen shot of Google search home page.


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  • “Fake news” is the hallmark of major media, so why would you expect them to have an exclusive on it?

  • althink

    So the author would have us believe there is a conspiracy to influence auto-complete to send subliminal political messages. A little skepticism, please. More conspiracy theories are not helpful. His solution to an unlikely problem is to put a political filter on statistical algorithms would only insure a political message is sent. Even more skepticism on the solution please.