Google recently settled with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) Over Political Bias Claims. In a recent segment on RT America, we discussed the Google antitrust probe and the political bias complaints from former Google employees.
In this article, I discuss the following:
- Is there political bias in how Google displays search results?
- Does political bias impact ranking recommendations in search queries on Google?
- Are search resulted altered or manipulated during political elections?
- Does Google provide access to information regardless of a political viewpoint?
- Does Google rerank or change search engine results?
- Does Google Censor search engine results?
- Is Google’s search engine biased?
- Does big tech discriminate against right-leaning media outlets and employees?
- Does Google promote or demote content that is considered controversial or labeled as a conspiracy theory?
Does Google Censor Free Speech?
One of the most pressing issues in the 2020 election is our ability to access fair and balanced news on search engines. Americans want to make sure they are seeing content from all political parties in order to make an informed voting decision.
Recently, there has been concern over the suppression of content on search engines and the ability of big-tech to tamper with elections and SERP’s (search engine results pages). This is no secret and has been widely reported in the news. Some sites claim that they have been blacklisted for certain search terms, and their content has been deranked because it is labeled as low-quality content.
The Politics Behind Machine Learning
The politics of artificial intelligence is a critical topic as we move towards better understanding algorithm rankings. In order to determine if algorithms are balanced, you need to look at who is responsible for creating the algorithms in the first place. Remember, the people who create the algorithms can create them to their own belief system.
This is why it is important that if a search engine owns 90 percent of the search market, that it employs people from all political point of views.
It is critical that machines are programmed properly for both Democrats and Republicans.
Several conservative bloggers have reported being manually banned for content in search results. Recently, President Trump tweeted that Google manipulated votes in the 2016 election. Some bloggers have reported that heavily trafficked articles saw a huge drop in search engine rankings. So what is really behind this?
Search Engine Manipulation
Manipulating search engine results has also been a widespread issue covered in recent Congressional hearings.
So the million dollar question is: Is this really due to political bias of search engines?
Or does it have to do with larger quality issues called “E-A-T” as outlined by Googles Quality Rater’s Guidelines?
E-A-T stands for Expertise, Authoritativeness, Trustworthiness.
Google’s Quality Rater Guidelines
In Google’s recent quality rater guidelines update, they placed a greater emphasis on news sites, and algorithm changes in the news industry. There is also a stronger emphasis placed around author credibility, particularly in the (Your Money Or Your Life) YMLY Categories – Civics, Government and Law has been added to this area.
Additionally, alternative health sites have taken a hit in search ranking results. Reputation is also being considered in the quality rater guidelines from outside news sources.
Any website that is considered to be a YMYL page is put on a higher standard by Google because they have the ability to affect a searcher’s health, happiness, wealth, and safety.
E-A-T Worthy Content
There are over 200 technical SEO factors that can impact search engine rankings on Google.
But what about E-A-T and the impact it can have on search rankings?
When Google is rating your web site, they are evaluating it for E-A-T worthy content. The main question they are looking to answer when rating your site is: is this content trustworthy?
And it doesn’t matter if you tell people you are trustworthy. What really matters here is that others around the web from third-party sources are saying you are trustworthy.
So now imagine that you have a popular right wing web site. The author states they are trustworthy. Then, you go to Google, and there are numerous complaints about the web site and others saying this person is not credible at all and is spreading conspiracy theories. It almost doesn’t matter what the person says at this point. Because third-party credibility to support your own claim of expertise matters more than your actual credibility in Google’s eyes.
So even if you are authoritative in your field, if Google determines the author of the content has a poor online reputation, that will impact the search rankings of the web site. If the author of the article has a poor digital reputation in the court of public opinion, that site is most likely going to tank and will never rank well.
Google also emphasizes that your site must have a clear purpose.
But what if the purpose of your site is by nature controversial?
For example, what if you create a web site that states:
“The purpose of my site is to share the truth about vaccines.”
“The purpose of this site is to share why abortion is wrong.”
See the inherent problem here? Google is viewing political pages or right wing pages as having invalid page purposes to begin with. They believe the purpose of those pages is to harm users!
Additionally, the second highlighted statement there is a contradiction within their guidelines document. “As long as the page is created to help users, we will not consider any particular page purpose or type to be higher quality than another.” Incorrect.
Later on in their guidelines document, they go on to say the following:
So here is the problem. Any information that is not considered acceptable by the mainstream will not be called “accurate content” if you are unable to provide citations to studies around the web supporting the claim. The majority of alternative health information or right wing content will by nature contradict well-established expert consensus. All of this information may be labeled as “unsubstantiated conspiracy theories” by Google. Google will also say that this information is attempting to misinform rankings and spread conspiracy theories. If you are sharing information that cannot be cited by outside sources, it will be considered an opinion, and may be more likely to get pushed down vs. a pharmaceutical company that can cite studies.
And the worst part of all of this? If you try to publish journalism that is not in the mainstream, Google is actually accusing users of doing it to “make money or gain attention.” How sad.
LOW QUALITY GOOGLE PAGES BY E-A-T STANDARDS
E-A-T Trust and Political Content
Even though you have followed Google’s guidelines of having the purpose of your site be visible, you are not following the guidelines because in their eyes, you are spreading conspiracy theories. It doesn’t matter what you write, or how many blog posts you write because everyone says that “content is king!” Google will determine you are spreading fake news because these are not mainstream popular opinions, and you will see a steep decline in rankings that you most likely can’t ever recover from.
Google is not seeing this as political bias. They are very transparently saying: we will deprioritize site rankings that share views that are not popular.
E-A-T is all about trust. And if you are sharing any political opinions that are outside of the norm, Google will see that as a real danger and threat to consumers. You will tank in E-A-T rankings. I’m convinced this is real issue because the alleged political bias that is being reported about Google, but no one has put the pieces together.
Additionally, the reputation of the content creators matters in the eyes of Google. So if the bios of the authors are controversial in any way, that will also negatively impact search rankings.
So, let’s explore this.
Let’s say Google has no political bias at all. But, if everyone else says your site is spreading conspiracy theories or leaves bad reviews about you all over the Internet, that will impact your rankings. And from what we have seen, many conservatives with strong opinions that are outside of the mainstream may fall under this category. If you pair that with Googles brand new quality rater guidelines, you have the perfect storm. I am not quite sure anyone has really connected the dots yet on this one, but I believe this is at the heart of what is really going on here.
This screenshot is taken from Google’s clause on Pages that potentially spread hate. What is most interesting here is that they ask the Quality Rater’s to use their own judgment based on personal knowledge.
Google cannot claim to be neutral and have no political bias when in the same sentence in a document created for quality review standards they tell reviewers to exercise personal judgment! Yes, I understand this particular clause is referring to pages that spread hate and not political pages, but you get the point.
An AP article stated, “Political leanings don’t factor into Google’s search algorithm. But the authoritativeness of page links that the algorithm spits out and the perception of thousands of human raters do.” I completely agree with this statement.
The other challenge, particularly for doctors in alternative medicine, is that Google is determining what is fact from a conspiracy. So, for example, if you dish out advice on your site that Google considers inaccurate or dangerous, your site will suffer in search results. If your views are alternative and differ from the mainstream, that is considered “dangerous.”
I believe this same principle is being applied to machine learning and quality rater reviews pertaining to politics.
See what’s happening here? Google is essentially saying medical advice should NOT be given by people who do not have appropriate medical expertise or accreditation. But, what are they defining as “appropriate medical expertise” and accreditation? See how this could take out the entire field of alternative medicine sites in one clean swoop?
Can you see why this could be largely problematic? “Where such consensus exists.”
Well, there are many areas where consensus will NOT exist on topics ranging from healthcare to politics. So what happens to those sites where the opinions fall out of the mainstream, popular choice? Are they not considered quality pages? According to Google, yes, they are not, and they are deemed low quality websites.
Why Author Reputation Can Tank Search Engine Rankings
Positive reputation is mentioned several times throughout this document. Many right wing sites have been tarnished with negative reviews on accredited business review sites. So, Google will take that into consideration, and they are very clearly saying “positive reputation” matters for rankings.
So, if a political commentator or alternative healthcare practitioner has negative reputation mentions all over the Internet, Google will automatically derank that content from appearing in search results. They aren’t hiding that fact- it’s just that no one has really bothered to read through these quality guidelines and connected the dots together regarding the impact of these guidelines on political content search results.
I also notice several times throughout the quality rater guidelines one of the common criteria for low-quality page rankings is “the level of expertise of the author is not clearly communicated.
Yes, E-A-T SHOULD distinguish between the two scenarios, except when it doesn’t.
And that’s where the problem really begins…
Many right wing commentators and political pundits who have risen to fame on Twitter and social media may not have the political background Google considers as “ accredited” regarding expertise on politics.
Right off the bat, regardless of what they publish, Google will see an inconsistency with the topic of content they are writing about and their perceived background of expertise in the topic. Again, this will automatically tank search rankings, and Google is very clearly stating it.
Is Google politically biased?
So, does Google have a political bias when it comes to search engine results? I am going to leave that to you to determine, because I don’t want this site to be flagged for “spreading conspiracy theories.”
Does Google censor search results?
What I really think is going on is that Google’s determination of “dangerous” information is the real culprit here. Any information being disseminated on the Internet around nontraditional healthcare remedies or non-mainstream political views is considered ‘dangerous’ because it does not reflect the popular opinion of the majority of Americans.
Google will de-prioritize this content in an effort to “protect” consumers from fake news. The problem is that for some people, that news is not fake news, and it is real news. They want access to both. And they do not want Google determining what is real vs. fake and what is dangerous vs. what is helpful.
In a private conversation with an anonymous SEO specialist, he said, “If you’re writing articles around science, show your research and medical journal citations so Google can verify it as credible. And if you’re writing about politics, don’t have negative social proof. How else would Google verify it as fact or fiction other than social proof? What algorithm could they create? There’s no way to measure politics because it is all opinion based. You either have good social proof or you don’t.”
“No. You don’t get it. Anyone in politics who is a conservative will automatically have negative social proof. That’s the whole point of this investigative journalism piece.”
That is my take on the issue. What is yours?
Google Quality Rating Guidelines
Google Quality Raters Guidelines Updated
Google’s Quality Raters’ Guidelines E-A-T Webinar: Marie Haynes