Trump news: How are Google search results actually decided,…


Donald Trump has launched an extraordinary attack on Google search because it makes him look bad.

The president claimed that the site was showing negative results about him with the aim of embarrassing him. He suggested that the behaviour was illegal and that the situation “will be addressed”.

“Google search results for “Trump News” shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake New Media,” he wrote. “In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD. Fake CNN is prominent. Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out. Illegal?”

In a later post, he went on to claim that good news about the White House is being suppressed, along with those views of right-wingers.

Google has not commented on the attack. And it has not revealed any more about its algorithm, making it difficult to know whether there is any truth at all in what Mr Trump said.

But the search rankings do not work quite as Mr Trump suggests. Google’s algorithm, according to what is known about it, takes a whole host of inputs from a range of different information about each site, with the aim of showing people the most relevant and accurate information they can.

The rankings look for sites that use the same kind of words that people are searching for, of course. But they also try and ensure that the pages writing those words are legitimate, by looking at information such as whether the site is trustworthy and if it is using the latest and most secure technology.

When Google began, it sorted the results that it showed by using a now famous algorithm called PageRank. That took a snapshot of the web and looked at how often pages were being linked to, and by which other websites, in an attempt to understand how authoritative they are.

Nowadays, the search engine works much the same way. But it takes a whole host of other inputs, too, as Google tries to emphasise new technologies or user safety.

But all of that is largely based on guesswork. In truth, very little is known about the specifics of how Google’s algorithm works, because it hasn’t described it in detail.

Google’s decision to keep the algorithm secret is partly an attempt to ensure that it still works. There is no doubt that as soon as the company revealed what it prized above other inputs websites would try and game it, meaning that the checks and balances built into it would stop working.

The same decision gets Google into trouble with political and other divisive content, however. While it might be unimportant how Google ranks the results for “how to change a lightbulb”, for instance, the rankings for a search like “Trump news” can have massive geopolitical impact, as the president showed after Googling himself.

It is not clear exactly what sites the president does want to appear on Google. But it is likely that he is looking for those that are particularly supportive of him, many of which are newer and smaller sites that have usually existed on the fringes of the internet.

Mr Trump’s complaint appeared to be related to an article on PJMedia written last week that claimed to have looked in the “news” while searching for Mr Trump’s name. It concluded with a complaint that the tab showed traditional news sites, rather than opinion writing as carried on that website, and it appears the president was echoing those calls for more partisan sites to show up in search results.

Those sites are often penalised by the various decisions Google has made about how to order its content. They tend to be newer and so their domain is less established in Google’s eyes; fewer other sites will have linked to them; they might have been given to sharing false stories in the past.

Those problems don’t simply hit the right-wing sites that Mr Trump might be looking to support. They also impact newer and more controversial left-wing publications, too.

All of that means that more mainstream and liberal sites will be privileged by Google – even if it hasn’t made an explicit or conscious choice to actually do so. What bias there is actually tend to be conservative: focusing on older and more established sites that don’t publish the kinds of inflammatory news Mr Trump is given to sharing.

As such, there is a bias to Google’s search results. But it’s not one the president thinks there is, and it’s not one that Google will state explicitly.

Swiftype News

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