Google moves past denial when it comes to those who skew its algorithm

Google says it is “thinking deeply” about improving its search results after learning that Holocaust deniers and others were successful in making their links rise to the top.

The company, a subsidiary of Alphabet, told the BBC that it is thinking about ways to improve its search results.

The focus on skewing Google’s algorithm comes as there’s more pressure on internet firms to do more to combat fake news and conspiracy theory sites. Given that many people get news and information from Google, the company’s algorithm is of particular focus. Last week, Facebook announced it was partnering with third-party fact checkers, including news organizations, to fight fake news.

In the U.S. and the United Kingdom, those searching for “Did the Holocaust happen?” received a top result linking to a website with the headline, “Top Ten Reasons why the Holocaust didn’t happen.” The site is run by Stormfront, a neo-Nazi white supremacist group.

Google changed the ranking for U.S. users. Now the link to the Holocaust denier is the second result, after an ad and three news stories about Google’s struggles with the issue.

But in the United Kingdom, the Holocaust denier’s site is still the top result, the BBC said.

The internet giant has struggled with its position that its algorithm is surfacing the best content on the web and those who are able to skew the algorithm:

This is a really challenging problem, and something we’re thinking deeply about in terms of how we can do a better job….Search is a reflection of the content that exists on the web….The fact that hate sites may appear in search results in no way means that Google endorses these views.

Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land wrote that it’s likely that Holocaust deniers and others are figuring out how to game Google’s system to bring their own results to the top of the search results.

The challenge for Google, he said, is to find a systemic fix, rather than just respond to one-off discoveries of misinformation:

It’s very easy to take a search here and there and demand Google change something and then the next day you find a different search and say, ‘why didn’t you fix that?’

The BBC also found that so-called “snippets,” short summaries of information that appear at the top of search results, also can be gamed.

Above: Google search page.


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  • Aren’t all agencies, colleges, publishers etc. equally able to use Google to optimize their appearance in results? What your article says is that Google isn’t merely going to take some cheese away from holocaust deniers, but rather they are going to build in a bias against them, which will propagate to other sources of information. For example, much of what holocaust deniers and other conspiracy theorists present is unique to their spiel, and would naturally rise to the top of a search. It seems obvious to me that when the information is offensive, whether holocaust denial, 9/11 denial, or blaming Muslims for terror, to suppress the offensive stuff, you’re going to have to build a bias into the system.

  • sd

    Is it wrong to discredit search results that are just plain wrong? The Holocaust existed. Any number of deniers can claim it did not happen, but the facts just are not on their side. So what is wrong with Google tweaking their algorithm so that statements which result from a lack of facts or from factual errors fall down the list of results? If I game a bunch of sites that claim 2+2 = 5 in base 10, should *that* conclusion rise to the top of the results? (Answer: no.)

    Used to be that a bias in favor of actual measurable data was accepted and even expected. Now we have millions of right-wingers across the world who come up with any $#!+ they can think of and declare it to be fact, even in the face of overwhelming facts to the contrary. Wishing does not make it so.

    • Your comments reveal your very clear bias. But for the sake of non-censorship in America, here’s the key question: How will this algorithm distinguish between “holocaust researchers” whose unstated agenda is denial, and honest researchers whose motives would obviously be suspect? And it might help to also make a case for why people who deny global warming, which could kill billions, should have a higher regard in google or our society than a holocaust denier, who merely dishonors the dead.

      • sd

        Yes, I have a very clear bias, in favor of science and independently documented events and occurrences. No tinfoil hats here and no interest in promoting tinfoil-hat nonsense to the plane of the real. Google should not have an interest in it, either. To quite Anatole France, if 50 million people say a foolish thing, it is still a foolish thing.

        If Google’s algorithm devalues minority statements accurately, the results linking to deniers will be there, but buried behind the preponderance of accurate, factually-defendable statements on which most people agree. As it should be. You want ’em? You look for them in the back pages. I am not in favor of Google *not* showing those results. But I am in favor of not letting anyone game the ranking system to promote nonsense.

        • You are aware that holocaust denial is illegal – criminal – in much of Europe. I assume that you sympathize with condemning people who have “tin foil hat” ideas, such as Cass Sunstein describes in his book. Here in America we have always held to a different standard, because we know from well-documented history that government-empowered bad guys are often extremely sensitive to “conspiracy theories”, especially when their crimes and coverups get exposed by FOIA requests. I personally know of holocaust deniers, whether The Rebel (Australia I think), Willis Carto and the IHR, Veterans Today, etc. etc. There is no way in hell that I would allow anyone to encroach on freedom of speech here just because they’re offended by the aforementioned clowns. I smell a rat, and I think you’re hiding a much bigger agenda than protecting people’s sensitivities.

          • sd

            Smell whatever you want. I don’t really care about peoples’ sensitivities. Sometimes the truth hurts.

            The truth is that the Holocaust occurred. Global warming is occurring. Donald Trump is a DSM-V textbook narcissist. All of these statements are based on FACTs, not some bizarre notion that saying something often enough makes it so.

            If dreaming about living where up is down and hot is cold gets you to sleep at night, that’s fine for you. But I choose to live in the real world. And I will fight tinfoil-hat lunacy wherever I see it. That’s not “protecting people’s sensitivities”. That’s protecting truth.

          • What I smell is an armchair warrior who’s fine with fighting from a web browser. It’s when you use the taxpayers’ money to enforce the censorship you advocate, that we object. Trump won because of people with your views. We won. And we don’t forget. Ever.

          • sd

            You won? The battle has barely started. And I’m already out in the field, thank you very much.

            As for the don’t-forget part, well, many people LIKE to be told what to think. It saves them the trouble and rigor of using logic and their own brains. The occasional reminder is no trouble to those seeking to use you for their own purposes.

            There’s a reason Trump proclaimed loudly that he “loves the poorly educated”. Enjoy being manipulated by Don the Con. I’m sure he and his henchmen have enjoyed manipulating you and your kind and will continue to do so as long as they can. Come back in a couple of years and tell us all how much Don the Con has done for ya. In the meantime, I have work to do.

          • Work to do? You lost. Your crybaby libs lost. You should get a real job instead of trolling. I’m a real friend of real people, including holocaust survivors who DON’T appreciate censors like you, who want to burn the books like Hitler did. You weren’t there, but you want to write your own history and censor others. The new administration won’t be kind to your type.

          • sd

            You think you’re the only person in the world who knows Holocaust survivors? Who has real friends who understand discrimination and being told sh*t is shinola? Get real.

            I’m not talking “censorship”, which seems to be the only word you know for devaluing statements based on their inability to be supported by what is true and factual.

            This is a private enterprise (in this case, Google) using their ability to reflect the “bias” (lol) for truth by downgrading loony statements UNsupported by facts. You don’t like Google? Ask your buddy Bannon to create a search engine that brings the conspiracy crap to the FRONT of the results list. It’ll make it easier for the down-is-up crowd to buttress the opinions you’ve been told to have.

            You probably believe Trump won in the biggest election landslide in history. The Trump administration may not be kind to truthtellers because we’re the enemy. But HISTORY has not been kind to the tinfoil-hat brigade. You wanna keep betting on that arc? Go for it.

            You’re history.

          • Actually no, you’re history, since you defend the indefensible. We the Trump brigade are the future. You’re looking right into the reality of the Trump presidency, and you can’t even see it.

            Another lie you tell is to compare truth-tellers, whistleblowers, and other very good citizens of this free republic to tinfoil hat people. I’d say that puts you squarely into the suppressive class of disinformers, who are trolling all over the Web, trying to cover up government and corporate malfeasance.

          • Here’s a great resource for independent thinkers and people interested in discerning truth, one of many fine articles on how disinformation works. Note that one of the primary techniques is name-calling, such as “Tinfoil Hat Brigade”. Enjoy!!


  • John Hoffman

    There is hope try the unbiased search engine non tracking for your private search, finally a search with just good results, have a nice day

  • One thing readers should be aware of is professional disinformation, produced by government and corporations to steer people away from embarrassing revelations. Here’s a good start on the topic: