It all started with a Tuesday tweet by U.S. President Donald Trump in which he accused search engine giant Google of rigging its search results in a manner that would only show negative news about him while hiding all the good stuff when somebody searched for “Trump News.”
The president said that there was a growing tendency among tech companies to suppress Conservative viewpoints, calling it a “very serious situation,” which “will be addressed.”
“Google search results for “Trump News” shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake News Media. In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD. Fake CNN is prominent.
Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out. Illegal?” read the presidential tweet.
“96% of results on “Trump News” are from National Left-Wing Media, very dangerous. Google & others are suppressing voices of Conservatives and hiding information and news that is good. They are controlling what we can & cannot see. This is a very serious situation will be addressed!” he wrote.
Google was quick to deny the president’s unsolicited allegations, saying in a press statement that the company didn’t use its search platform to “set a political agenda” nor did it manipulate its results to support any political ideology.
Here’s the press statement in full.
“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.
“Every year, we issue hundreds of improvements to our algorithms to ensure they surface high-quality content in response to users’ queries.
“We continually work to improve Google Search and we never rank search results to manipulate political sentiment.”
Speaking to reporters at the White House later that afternoon, following a meeting with FIFA president Gianni Infantino, Trump expanded his attack to include Facebook and Twitter alongside Google, saying that the three companies were “treading on very, very troubled territory and they have to be careful.”
“I think Google is really taking advantage of a lot of people, and I think that’s a very serious thing, and it’s a very serious charge,” he told the attending reporters during the Oval Office press meet.
“And I think what Google and what others are doing, if you look at what’s going on at Twitter, if you look at what’s going on in Facebook, they better be careful, because you can’t do that to people,” he continued.
“You can’t do it. We have tremendous, we have literally thousands and thousands of complaints coming in, and you just can’t do that,” he went on.
“So I think that Google and Twitter and Facebook, they’re really treading on very, very troubled territory, and they have to be careful,” he told the reporters, adding that it wasn’t “fair to large portions of the population.”
Responding to a query about Trump’s misgivings about Google, his economic adviser Larry Kudlow said that the White House was taking stock of the situation through “investigation” and “analysis” and considering whether the search engine should be regulated.
Q: "Does the president believe or does the administration feel that there needs to be some form of regulation for Google?"@larry_kudlow: "We'll let you know. We're taking a look at it." pic.twitter.com/H2yF4adlQR
— CSPAN (@cspan) August 28, 2018
In a similar attack on Twitter last month, Trump accused the social networking service of limiting the visibility of top Republicans using a procedure known as “shadow banning,” which the president said was a “discriminatory and illegal practice” and that his administration would “look into it.”
Twitter “SHADOW BANNING” prominent Republicans. Not good. We will look into this discriminatory and illegal practice at once! Many complaints.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2018
Shadow banning, basically, means preventing someone’s content from being discovered by other users on the platform, without the knowledge of the user who posted it.
“We do not shadow ban,” Twitter rebutted the president’s accusation in a blog post entitled “Setting the record straight on shadow banning.”
“You are always able to see the tweets from accounts you follow (although you may have to do more work to find them, like go directly to their profile). And we certainly don’t shadow ban based on political viewpoints or ideology,” the blog post said.
A Twitter spokesperson had earlier said that the company was aware that some accounts were not auto-populating the search box and that Twitter was working on correcting the issue.
“The profiles, tweets and discussions about these accounts do appear when you search for them,” he said, adding that the platform’s “behavioral ranking doesn’t make judgments based on political views or the substance of tweets.”
As a matter of fact, earlier this year when there was a public outcry to ban Trump on Twitter for his vitriolic and inflammatory tweets, particularly in the wake his outburst against North Korea at the time, Twitter released a statement explaining why the company was against the proposed ban.
In a blog post entitled “World Leaders on Twitter,” the company said that blocking political figures and world leaders or removing controversial tweets posted by them would amount to depriving people of access to important information, which they were entitled to see and debate on.
While such a decision would not silence the leader it would most definitely come in the way of “necessary discussion around their words and actions,” the statement said.
Twitter had gone on to say that the company reviewed tweets by leaders “within the political context that defines them” and implemented rules accordingly.
“No one person’s account drives Twitter’s growth or influences these decisions. We work hard to remain unbiased with the public interest in mind,” the statement said.
The impression that Twitter’s explanation gave at the time was that world leaders were exempt from saying anything in the name of “necessary discussion around their words and actions,” at least as far as the social media platform was considered.
With the kind of stand Twitter took against the public demand to ban the president on its platform, Trump’s latest accusation against the social networking behemoth seems kind of unjustified and uncalled for, especially in the absence of any substantive evidence to back his claims.