by WorldTribune Staff, September 22, 2020
Google is suppressing conservative media so thoroughly that users searching for conservative news content are forced to click through page after page of less-relevant results before finding their desired result, a report said.
“It has long been feared that Google, which controls almost 90% of U.S. Internet search traffic, could sway an election by altering the search results it shows users. New data indicate that may be happening, as conservative news sites including Breitbart, the Daily Caller, and the Federalist have seen their Google search listings dramatically reduced,” Maxim Lott, executive producer of Stossel TV and creator of ElectionBettingOdds.com, noted in a Sept. 20 analysis for RealClearPolitics.
An analyst in search engine optimization pointed RealClearPolitics to a public Google document from 2019 outlining how the company now employs humans to go through webpages and rate them based on “Expertise/Authoritativeness/Trustworthiness.”
“Google has acknowledged they use human search quality raters who help evaluate search results,” said Chris Rodgers, CEO and founder of Colorado SEO Pros.
Related: How Google fills in the blanks for billions of searches, November 19, 2019
Google does not directly use such ratings to rank sites, but “based on those ratings Google will then tweak their algorithm and use machine learning to help dial in the desired results,” Rodgers explained.
The Google guidelines instruct raters to give the “lowest” ranking to any news-related “content that contradicts well-established expert consensus.”
How does one determine “expert consensus”? The Google guidelines repeatedly advise raters to consult Wikipedia, which it mentions 56 times: “See if there is a Wikipedia article or news article from a well-known news site. Wikipedia can be a good source of information about companies, organizations, and content creators.”
The reliance on Wikipedia could partly explain the de-rankings, as the crowdsourced encyclopedia calls Breitbart “far right” and alleges that the Daily Caller “frequently published false stories.” But Wikipedia’s co-founder, Larry Sanger, recently wrote an essay about how “Wikipedia is badly biased.”
In congressional testimony this summer, Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz asked Google CEO Sundar Pichai if the search engine manually de-ranked websites. Gaetz cited Breitbart, The Daily Caller, as well as WesternJournal.com and Spectator.org, two other conservative news sites that data show have been nearly removed from Google searches.
Pichai responded that his company only removes sites if they are deemed to be “interfering in elections” or conveying “violent extremism.”
It remains unclear why the conservative sites were de-ranked. “Only Google can truly know why these sites have seen ranking losses,” Rodgers said.
The data come from the search consultancy Sistrix, which tracks a million different Google search keywords and keeps track of how highly different sites rank across all the search terms.
As an example, Lott noted that Googling the name “Breitbart” still pulls up the website, but it is nearly eliminated from any searches that don’t explicitly name it.
In the case of Breitbart’s Joel Pollak, the first Breitbart link appears on the bottom of page 7 of Google search results. In comparison, a search on the small Google competitor DuckDuckGo gives multiple links to Pollak’s Breitbart work on the first page.
The RealClearPolitics investigation confirms Breitbart’s own reporting on Google’s suppression of the site in search results, illustrated by the nearly complete disappearance of Breitbart articles in the results for a search of “Joe Biden.”
The report backs up a previous report from Breitbart News about the downranking of Breitbart in Google Search results. In July, Breitbart News reporter Allum Bokhari wrote:
Search visibility is a key industry measure of how findable a publisher’s content is in Google search. New data shows that Google has suppressed Breitbart’s search visibility by 99.7 percent since 2016.
On April 4, 2016, Breitbart ranked in the top ten search positions (i.e., on the first page of Google search results) for 355 key search terms; but now, as of July 20, 2020, Breitbart ranks in the top ten search positions for only one search term. And, on April 4, 2016, Breitbart ranked in the top 100 search positions for 16,820 key search terms; but now, as of July 20, 2020, Breitbart ranks in the top 100 search positions for only 55 search terms.