Google reportedly blacklists news sites by manipulating search results, contrary to congressional testimony offered by the tech giant’s CEO in December.
Among the conservative sites Google has blacklisted, according to The Daily Caller, is the Conservative Tribune, which is the commentary section of The Western Journal.
“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,” reads a policy document obtained by The Daily Caller.
The blacklist applies to most search features, like “top news” and “videos.”
Seeking to address the notion Google has an anti-conservative bias, Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren asked the company’s CEO Sundar Pichai during testimony on Dec. 11, 2018, why the search term “idiot” returned a photo of President Donald Trump.
“We don’t manually intervene on any particular search result,” Pichai claimed. “It is not possible for an individual employee or groups of employees to manipulate our search results.”
The Daily Caller reported that an internal document it obtained shows the process Google uses to blacklist news organizations, and it’s clear there is a manual component. The document was last edited on Dec. 3, 2018, the very week Pichai testified.
The list is informed by Google’s “misrepresentation policy” and “good neighbor policy.”
The document reads: “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 document also specifically mentions a “manual review tool.”
“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.”
The Daily Caller reached out to Google for comment and received the following statement:
“We do 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. Our Google News inclusion policies are publicly available online.
“They provide guidelines on content and behaviors for matters like sponsored content, deceptive practices, and more. Sites that do not adhere to these policies are not eligible to appear on news surfaces or in information boxes in Search. These policies do not impact the way these sites appear in organic blue-link Google Search results.”
George Upper, The Western Journal’s managing editor, responded to Google’s reported blacklist in a series of tweets.
“The Western Journal has been excluded completely from Google News search results. No algorithm or policy is required for them to do so. We have reached out to Google multiple times over the past six months to ask why we have been excluded,” he wrote.
The Western Journal has been excluded completely from Google News search results. No algorithm or policy is required for them to do so. We have reached out to Google multiple times over the past six months to ask why we have been excluded. (4/13)
— The Upper Cut (@georgeupper) April 9, 2019
Upper explained that after ignoring The Western Journal’s inquiries for weeks, Google finally responded to a reporter from Breitbart News by providing a list of generic policy violations by The Journal, none of which the news site found any evidence of after numerous internal audits.
Google has been unable or unwilling to provide a single example of such a violation. (6/13)
— The Upper Cut (@georgeupper) April 9, 2019
Upper further argued that Google’s policies are not in question, but the application of those policies is: “The Western Journal adheres to those policies. In fact, our own Editorial Standards are arguably more stringent than Google’s policies.”
The Western Journal contacted Google for comment and received the same statement sent to The Daily Caller.
Though specifically asked, Google did not address why The Western Journal has been blacklisted from the news search feature.
UPDATE, April 12, 2019: Three days after this article was published, The Western Journal received additional information from a source within The Daily Caller that indicated that Google’s blacklist was not limited to conservative or right-leaning websites and that such websites may not even constitute the majority of sites on the list.
The Western Journal has not seen either the entire list or the excerpt of the list in the possession of The Daily Caller, and therefore has no way to verify the accuracy of this description independently. The ideological leanings of the websites included in the list, however, is not relevant to the point that Sundar Pichai’s claim that Google employees do not “manually intervene” in search results appears, if these documents are authentic and accurate, to have been a calculated deception.
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