Google’s online influence remains under scrutiny after media reports found the search engine has been gaslighting for the left by limiting results of conservative content. Critics now worry the tech giant, which holds approximately a 90 percent (+/-4) market share of all search activity on the internet, may also be manually restricting conservative news sites it deems unreliable.  

Right-wing news sites have reportedly seen major drops in Google search visibility, according to analyses of search analytics, as well as data from a consulting firm that shows how high content ranks on Google based on various keyword searches. Yet, it wasn’t until a glitch that completely removed conservative news sites like Newsbusters, The Daily Caller and Breitbart from Google search results that concerns over manually curated blacklists of conservative news sites became more than just a conspiracy theory.   

Following an update to the Google search engine algorithm in May of this year, searches for “Joe Biden” leading to Breitbart content “flatlined,” according to Breitbart reporter Allum Bokhari. Bokhari analyzed data from Sistrix, a research firm that collects data on how different keywords rank publisher’s content on Google’s search engine.

Before President Donald Trump’s election in 2016, Breitbart reported it appeared on the first page of results across 355 key search terms on Google. As of July 2020, Breitbart reported it only appeared on the first page for just one search term.

Maxim Lott, the executive producer at Stossel TV, proposed in an interview that the Google censorship could be due to a blacklist employed by the platform that marks conservative sites as unreliable. Lott said that experts he has spoken with suggested it could also be due to a poorly run human rating system. 

Publicly available information on Google’s guidelines to human raters, a system the tech company uses to ostensibly help it provide more reliable search results for its users, tells humans who help rank content to consult Wikipedia. The guidelines state: “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.”

Percentages of website traffic from Google, via Alexa web rankings. Red = media sources with conservative or libertarian-leaning editorial stances. Data is a six-month average as of July 7, 2020. (Breitbart/Bokhari)

Reliance on Wikipedia could be an explanation for the low metrics, as the crowd-sourced encyclopedia labels Breitbart as “far-right” and indicates The Daily Caller has “frequently published false stories.” In fact, Wikipedia’s co-founder, Larry Sanger, called the site “badly biased” and spoke further about its problems with the Media Research Center.

However, Google search visibility extinguished completely for The Daily Caller as well. “What we’ve been experiencing since at least last year culminated just this past May with an absolute annihilation of our search traffic.” Editor-In-Chief Geoffery Ingersoll told Breitbart. “This isn’t a hare-brained, half baked conspiracy or another verbal testimony from some whistleblower. It’s hard numbers, Google’s own numbers, in fact.”

The Daily Caller reported on a leaked exchange between Google employees from right after Donald Trump’s election win in 2016. “How many times did you see the Election now card with items from opinion blogs (Breitbart, Daily Caller) elevated next to legitimate news organizations? That’s something that can and should be fixed,” wrote Google engineer Scott Byer in digital communications reviewed by The Daily Caller.

Breitbart spoke with an anonymous expert on search engine optimization who said he has “never experienced such a wholesale removal of rank and visibility on specific concepts on a site,” like he has with Breitbart. “Removal is the key, not dropping in rank, which would be an organic devaluing,” added the expert. “These ranks are just simply gone, overnight, while other topics have been untouched.”

Google CEO Sundar Pichai initially denied the existence of manually curated blacklists under congressional testimony but then later reneged in a separate testimony in July 2020, saying, “that process can involve manual portions.”

Google’s monopoly on internet search activity can be a powerful election tool, so if the tech giant’s liberal workforce is indeed blacklisting conservatives then there is a case to be made for election interference.

Please Follow me on Twitter – @alec_schem

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