Documents accessed by The Daily Caller indicate that the search giant Google manually manipulates search results even as the company officially denies such manipulation.
One of the documents reportedly shared with The Daily Caller reads, “T&S (Trust & Safety) will be in charge of updating the blacklist as when there is a demand”. As per the report, two official policies dubbed the “misrepresentation policy” and the “good neighbor policy” inform the company’s “XPA news blacklist,” which is maintained by Google’s Trust & Safety team. “The deceptive_news domain blacklist is going to be used by many search features to filter problematic sites that violate the good neighbor and misrepresentation policies,” the policy document reportedly says.
The Daily Caller mentions that the said document is “approved” by gomes@, nayak@ and haahr@ as on 8/13/2018. Ben Gomes is Google’s head of search and reports directly to Google CEO Sundar Pichai. As per the report, Pandu Nayak is a Google Fellow and Paul Haahr is a software engineer who is involved in “fringe ranking: not showing fake news, hate speech, conspiracy theories, or science/medical/history denial unless we’re sure that’s what the user wants.”
As per the alleged policy document accessed by The Daily Caller, “The purpose of the blacklist will be to bar the sites from surfacing in any Search feature or news product. It will not cause a demotion in the organic search results or de-index them altogether.” That means the site will not be removed from the top ten search results thrown by Google on the first page, but other search features like “top news,” “videos” or the various sidebars that are returned as search results. Hence, while the top ten search results called the “ten blue links”, may not get impacted by the blacklist but almost every other Google search result is which could mean a significant dip in the web traffic.
While testifying before the House Judiciary Committee Pichai on December 11, 2018, Pichai had claimed that Google does not manually intervene on any particular search result. However, an alleged memo which was last edited on December 3, 2018, a week prior to Pichai’s testimony, accessed by The Daily Caller describes the process by which a site can be blacklisted for deceptive news.
The beginning of the workflow starts when a website is placed on a watchlist which is used for monitoring of sites to determine if they violate the Good Neighbor Policy. This watchlist is maintained and stored by Ares with access restricted to policy & enforcement specialists working on the Good Neighbor Policy. Access to the listing can also be shared at the discretion of counsel and legal investigations on a need to know basis to enforce or enrich the policy violations. The investigation of the watchlist is done in the tool Athena, the Ares manual review tool, and intakes signals from Search, Webspan, and Ares in order to complete reviews. … Once a domain is determined to be violating the misrepresentation policy or the Good Neighbor Policy, such patterns are then added to deceptive_news_blacklist_domains.txt by the Trust & Safety team.
This clearly shows that there is a manual component “manual review tool” involved in maintaining the blacklist. Interestingly, the blacklist contains many right-wing conservative sites like Gateway Pundit, Matt Walsh’s blog, Gary North’s blog “teapartyeconomist.com,” Caroline Glick’s website, Conservative Tribune, a property of The Western Journal and the website of the American Spectator.
As per The Daily Caller, in a statement issued by a Google spokesperon, Google has asserted that the search giant does not “manually determine the order of any search result, nor do our algorithms or policies attempt to make any judgement on the political leanings of a website.” The spokesperson said that the Google News guidelines are publicly available which provide guidelines on content and behaviour for matters like sponsored content, deceptive practices and more. Google says such sites are not eligible to appear on news surfaces or in information boxes in search. These policies (the ones on sponsored content) does not impact these sites which appear in the organic search result of Google.