According to a report from YouTube news channel SourceFed, Google appears to be purging its autocomplete suggestions of terms that would be embarrassing for Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
“Thanks to our editor, Spencer Reed, Sourcefed has discovered that Google has been actively altering search recommendations in favor of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, so quietly that we were unable to see it for what it was until today,” said host Matt Lieberman in a video announcing their discovery.
The video, which has received 10 million views on Facebook, certainly sound conspiratorial, but the evidence is surprisingly sound. SourceFed fed the same terms into Google, Bing, and Yahoo to see what the search engines’ autocomplete would recommend. Yahoo and Bing had the same results; entering a phrase like “Hillary Clinton cri” turned up suggestions like “Hillary Clinton criminal,” “Hillary Clinton criminal charges,” and “Hillary Clinton crimes.”
But Google’s results were completely different. They turned out results like “Hillary Clinton crime bill” and “Hillary Clinton crime reform.”
The trend held up across all the terms they tried. “Hillary Clinton ind” on Bing and Yahoo brings up lots of recommendations based on “Hillary Clinton indictment,” but Google offers terms like “Hillary Clinton Indiana” and “Hillary Clinton India.” The same thing doesn’t seem to happen for damaging terms like “Donald Trump racist” or “Bernie Sanders socialist”.
SourceFed didn’t just compare the separate search engines, they also used Google Trends to figure out which terms were actually the most searched for. Surprise, surprise: “Hillary Clinton indictment” was searched for eight times more often than “Hillary Clinton India.” Despite “Hillary Clinton crime reform” being Google’s top suggested search term, so few people search for it that it doesn’t even show up on Google Trends.
We at Mediaite decided to give it a try with a few other politicians. Searching for “Bill Clinton white” brings up the same results across all search engines, usually items about his White House. But add only one more letter, and Google’s autocomplete gives up entirely.
Likewise, Google autocomplete suddenly stops working as you search for background information on Senator Ted Kennedy.
The Wall Street Journal‘s Tim Hanrahan also points out that when you put in “Bill Clinton aff,” the site assumes you must be looking for information about his views on affordable health care.
“Bill Clinton aff..” autocompletes in Bing as: affairs, affairs and girlfriends. Google? affordable health care pic.twitter.com/3vzauNNbCD
— Tim Hanrahan (@TimJHanrahan) June 10, 2016
Contrary to SourceFed, we did find that Google will sanitize certain searches for Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. “Bernie Sanders com,” brings up recommendations for his “commercials” and “commitments” on Google, while Bing and Yahoo’s recommendations are all variations of “Bernie Sanders communist.” Google also stops recommending searches after “Donald Trump bigo,” while the other sites recommend variations on “Donald Trump bigot.”
UPDATE (1:43 PM): Google has responded to the allegations put forward in the SourceFed video.
“Google Autocomplete does not favor any candidate or cause. Claims to the contrary simply misunderstand how Autocomplete works. Our Autocomplete algorithm will not show a predicted query that is offensive or disparaging when displayed in conjunction with a person’s name. More generally, our autocomplete predictions are produced based on a number of factors including the popularity of search terms.”
[Image via screengrab]
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