It has long been asserted by conservatives that Google is a politically-biased company that favors liberals and the Democratic Party, and will sometimes suppress search results that portray Republicans negatively while highlighting search results that are positive for Democrats.
The liberal media has typically scoffed dismissively at such assertions from the right … until now, when a liberal media outlet found that one of their articles — which happened to be highly critical of a Democrat-aligned political action committee — had seemingly been suppressed in Google search results.
The Huffington Post, by no means a conservative or even centrist media website, reported on Thursday their belief that some unknown individual aligned with a Democrat PAC had hired thousands of foreign workers in other countries to essentially game Google’s algorithms and manipulate the search results by specifically clicking on positive links while ignoring negative links.
In doing so, an April 2016 article critical of the End Citizens United PAC went from being the second link on the first page of results for the generic search “End Citizens United” all the way to the second page of search results.
That article detailed how the PAC had been initially formed by three workers from the Democratic Party’s House-focused Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
The PAC was formed specifically to support Democrat candidates for Congress who were in favor of campaign finance reform, but came under fire from other groups on their own side who were focused on the same thing, largely due to ECU’s aggressive fundraising efforts and deceptive campaign mailers that led some to accuse the PAC of “stealing” donor money that other groups should rightly have received.
The HuffPost article criticizing ECU had routinely been displayed as the second link on the first page of results whenever a Google search was conducted on the PAC, until it suddenly and inexplicably dropped to the second page of results at some point in the spring of 2018.
HuffPost learned that an anonymous U.S.-based contractor had paid around 3,800 foreign workers in foreign countries $0.20 per click to boost links that positively portrayed the ECU while ignoring negative links, like the HuffPost story, in the effort to manipulate the search results.
That sort of scheme appears to have worked by gaming Google’s algorithms that rank links based on click rates, boosting positive links that received clicks while suppressing negative links that didn’t receive clicks.
The scheme to influence search results is actually said to be quite common — typically for links such as product reviews — though it is rarely used to boost or suppress news articles, according to Texas A&M associate professor James Caverlee.
HuffPost learned what had happened to their link in Google search results after they reviewed job listings from an online crowdsourcing firm known as Microworkers.
It is worth noting that HuffPost found no direct linkage between the ECU PAC and the effort to manipulate search results, and the PAC declined to respond to a request for comment prior to the publication of HuffPost’s new article.
However, as per Federal Election Commission rules, PACs like ECU are not required to disclose the specifics of payments made to subvendors — like Microworkers — through contractors for the PAC, meaning contractors and consulting firms are able to spend PAC money through subvendors with little or no oversight or required disclosures.
It is therefore entirely possible, in the view of HuffPost, that a contractor or consultant for the ECU PAC arranged for and organized a campaign to manipulate the search results through a private forum or offline, only afterward posting the $0.20 micro jobs on the Microworkers website.
Caverlee explained, “Any political group using Microworkers is dumb, since we can track the activity by monitoring Microworkers. Smarter groups would do everything offline or in private groups where we can’t observe their traces.”
It remains to be seen if anything else comes from this potential exposure of a concerted effort to suppress links negative for Democrats in Google search results, but it is nice to see folks from across the ideological aisle finally speaking up about what certainly appears to bias and favoritism on Google, whether overt or covert.
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