Who Googles Google? The Holocaust and Search Algorithms

Motivated users can manipulate search engine results

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Been going to Google for information about the Holocaust recently? You might have been presented with top results that include a white supremacist website.

As we posted previously, the idea that the internet is a neutral mass of information–and that search engines are neutral and unbiased–is one that increasingly needs to be challenged by students and readers of all ages.

Google results can serve as useful test cases to help students understand the inner workings behind what actually comes up in search results.

Fortune reports on the story in a short article appropriate for high school students.

The implications are alarming. Due to the search engine’s placement of the website, a young person unfamiliar with history, or a person seeking to validate a conspiracy theory, could easily get drawn into the Stormfront site as a jumping-off point for research.

The Guardian presents a more in-depth explanation of how Google’s autocomplete suggestions and ordering of search results can impact readers’ perceptions of an issue.

The increased scrutiny on the algorithms of Google – which removed antisemitic and sexist autocomplete phrases after the recent Observer investigation – comes at a time of tense debate surrounding the role of fake news in building support for conservative political leaders, particularly US president-elect Donald Trump.

Facebook has faced significant backlash for its role in enabling widespread dissemination of misinformation, and data scientists and communication experts have argued that rightwing groups have found creative ways to manipulate social media trends and search algorithms.

The Guardian’s latest findings further suggest that Google’s searches are contributing to the problem.

In the past, when a journalist or academic exposes one of these algorithmic hiccups, humans at Google quietly make manual adjustments in a process that’s neither transparent nor accountable.

At the same time, politically motivated third parties including the “alt-right”, a far-right movement in the US, use a variety of techniques to trick the algorithm and push propaganda and misinformation higher up Google’s search rankings.

 

Included in this post:

“How Google’s search algorithm spreads false information with a rightwing bias,” via The Guardian, 12/16/15

“A Top Google Result for the Holocaust Is Now a White Supremacist Site,” via Fortune, 12/12/16

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