Google accused of censoring conservative videos, pushing right-leaning news low in search results

"[C]onservative websites like the Daily Caller, Breitbart, they've just been zeroed out" from Google search results, said Maxim Lott, creator of ElectionBettingOdds.com.

Updated: September 23, 2020 - 4:40pm

Google is facing new accusations of censoring conservative videos and pushing right-leaning news websites lower in search results compared to left-leaning ones.

On Tuesday, the Job Creators Network (JCN), an advocacy group of business leaders, criticized YouTube for what JCN said was unfair censorship of a JCN video by blocking direct access to the video with an "inappropriate content" warning label. The video shows footage of scenes from recent rioting, looting and violence nationwide and asks, "Is your city next?" 

An "inappropriate content" label does not prohibit the video from being viewed, but users must log in and click that they "understand and wish to proceed" before viewing. JCN claimed that the warning prevents videos from being promoted, reducing reach and view count.

"YouTube's decision to slap an inappropriate content restriction on our video depicting news footage of rioting shows Google's left-wing bias," Alfredo Ortiz, JCN president and CEO, said in a Tuesday press statement. "It amounts to censorship of opposing political opinions. YouTube does not treat left-wing videos that depict violent protests with similar warnings that depress view count and reach. YouTube and other social media platforms are this century’s 'town square,' and they should not censor based on political viewpoints. They should uphold the values of free speech that are the basis of their revenue model and popularity. Social media's widespread censorship of conservative views demonstrates society's slide away from the values of free speech. President Trump should nominate a strong defender of the First Amendment to the Supreme Court to help reestablish this fundamental right of all Americans."

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Job Creators Network YouTube video with warning label
(Screenshot by Just the News via Youtube.com 9/22/2020)
Job Creators Network YouTube video with warning label

A spokesperson for YouTube told Just the News that its rules governing prohibited content are spelled out in the platform's Community Guidelines and are enforced consistently without political bias. Sometimes, the spokesperson said, content may be permissible but inappropriate for viewers under 18, in which case it may be age-restricted

Meanwhile, conservative news sites, including Breitbart, The Daily Caller, and the Federalist, "have seen their Google search listings dramatically reduced" by the search engine, according to Maxim Lott, executive producer of Stossel TV. Lott, creator of ElectionBettingOdds.com, analyzed data come from Sistrix, a search engine optimization firm tracking a million different Google search keywords. 

"The tracker shows that Google search visibility for Breitbart first plunged in 2017, before falling to approximately zero in July 2019," Lott wrote at RealClearPolitics, noting that both Breitbart and the Daily Caller confirmed their Google traffic dropped sharply as their search rankings fell.

"People have long worried that Google would censor conservative news results, or any results they don't like," Lott told Just the News in a video interview. "There hasn't been much evidence until now, where basically you can look at a graph of how well websites are doing on Google search results, how highly they're ranked, and conservative websites like the Daily Caller, Breitbart, they've just been zeroed out. Google's basically not going to show them to you. It's more sites too, like the Spectator US. And their reach has gone to basically zero. And there's almost no other explanation than that they've been deemed unreliable by people at Google."

Lott also noted that in 2018 the Daily Caller reported on leaked Google employee deliberations the day after President Trump's 2016 election win, with Google employees debating whether they should bury results for Breitbart and The Daily Caller.

"This was an election of false equivalencies, and Google, sadly, had a hand in it," Google engineer Scott Byer wrote, according to reporting from The Daily Caller. "That's something that can and should be fixed," Byer wrote. 

"We don't 100% know how these sites got de-ranked so badly on the search engines," Lott continued in his interview. "There could be a blacklist that Google has that just says 'these sites are unreliable.' But experts I talked to suggested that it could also be Google — and this is public knowledge — employs human raters to talk about the quality of websites to rate all websites on quality. And they have these long guideline that are public that say, 'Consult Wikipedia, consult major news outlets like New York Times, and see what they say about say Breitbart, Daily Caller. Is this a news outlet? Is it a gossip rag, and then they give them a rating based on that.'" 

Lott said Google's reliance on Wikipedia is problematic, not only for quality control purposes, but also for bias. Lott noted that Wikipedia's co-founder, Larry Sanger, recently wrote an essay titled "Wikipedia is badly biased." 

"[C]ollege papers sometimes get docked for citing Wikipedia," Lott said. "But Google uses Wikipedia in their guidelines for rating quality. They cite them dozens of times they, look at Wikipedia to see what what they say. And ... one of the founders of Wikipedia says it's now badly biased. It's basically been taken over by activists, and anytime someone makes a change that isn't liberal enough, they just change it. And they're kind of the core group that are now running the politics side of Wikipedia. So that's one, potentially one, source of the bias that we see on Google now."

Lott reported that Google controls nearly 90% of U.S. Internet search traffic, and that a 2015 peer-reviewed study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences projected that a search engine could sway more than 10% of undecided voters in an election through changing search results.

Last year, following charges by a former Google engineer that the tech giant was manipulating search results to torpedo President Trump's reelection effort, a Google spokesperson told Vox Media's Recode: "The statements made by this disgruntled former employee are absolutely false. We go to great lengths to build our products and enforce our policies in ways that don't take political leanings into account. Distorting results for political purposes would harm our business and go against our mission of providing helpful content to all of our users."

Earlier this year, amid outcries from conservatives claiming censorship by numerous social media platforms, the U.S. Justice Department proposed revisions to a federal law that has shielded Internet companies like Facebook, Twitter and Google from liability involving content published on their servers

Lott told Just the News he didn't think the Trump administration's case was airtight in its call for technology companies to face additional regulations through repeal of protections under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. "So the lawyers will have to figure out if there's something in there that still could force Google to be balanced," Lott said. 

"But the most likely solution here is competition," Lott said, noting that Microsoft's Bing search engine has 7.2% market share and DuckDuckGo has 1.75% market share — and growing.

Those sites have been "pretty unusable in the past, but they're getting better," said Lott. "And that may be the best way to kind of beat the censorship."

Google dismissed allegations that the search engine applies ideological filters in its search rankings of conservative news and opinion sites.

"There is no validity whatsoever to these allegations of political bias," a Google spokesperson said in a statement provided to Just the News. "Our systems do not take political ideology into account, and we go to extraordinary lengths to build our products for everyone in an apolitical way. Anyone can easily cherry-pick a range of conservative, progressive or non-political sites that have seen traffic changes over time. The improvements we make to Search are done to provide helpful information for the billions of queries we get every day."

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