Tuesday, President Trump tweeted that Google “RIGGED” search results, saying “96 percent of news search results on ‘Trump News’ are from National Left-Wing Media, very dangerous.”
The claim was originally made by Paula Bolyard, a writer at PJ Media, and got picked up by Lou Dobbs. Bolyard manually counted Google results for “Trump,” and found that of the top 100, no stories appeared from “National Review, The Weekly Standard, Breitbart News, The Blaze, The Daily Wire, Hot Air, Townhall, Red State,” while there were many stories from CNN, The Washington Post, NBC, The Atlantic, Politico, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the like.
The methodology PJ Media used to classify publications’ “bias” was questionable—The New York Times was ranked farther left than InfoWars is right—but Bolyard’s point wasn’t entirely off-base: Google does feature work by traditional media organizations more than insurgent conservative outlets.
Of course, Google’s ability to divine “quality” as distinct from “popularity” is limited. Search-ranking technology relies on the implicit votes of readers, with all the human biases that come bundled with them. Google, for its part, categorically rejected the claim that it tinkered with search results for political reasons. “When users type queries into the Google Search bar, our goal is to make sure they receive the most relevant answers in a matter of seconds. Search is not used to set a political agenda and we don’t bias our results toward any political ideology,” a spokesperson told The Washington Post. “Every year, we issue hundreds of improvements to our algorithms to ensure they surface high-quality content in response to users’ queries.”