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Trump Accuses Google of Burying Conservative News in Search Results

President Trump, in a series of early morning Twitter posts on Tuesday, attacked Google for what he claimed was an effort to intentionally suppress conservative news outlets supportive of his administration.

Mr. Trump's remarks – and an additional warning later in the day that Google, Facebook and Twitter "have to be careful" – escalated a conservative campaign against the internet industry that has become more pointed since Apple, Google and Facebook removed content from Alex Jones, a right-wing conspiracy theorist who runs the site InfoWars and has been a vocal supporter of Mr. Trump.

"Google search results for 'Trump News' shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake New Media," Mr. Trump said on Twitter at 5:24 a.m. "In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD. Fake CNN is prominent."

Mr. Trump added that "they are controlling what we can & cannot see. This is a very serious situation-will be addressed!"

Larry Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council and a longtime advocate of deregulation, appeared to back Mr. Trump when asked by reporters later on Tuesday whether the administration would be pursuing more regulation of Google. "We'll let you know," Mr. Kudlow said. "We're taking a look at it."

In a statement, Google said that its search service was "not used to set a political agenda and we don't bias our results toward any political ideology."

The president's tweets landed at a difficult moment for the tech industry. There is a growing sense across the political spectrum in the United States and in other countries that something must be done to rein in their influence.

Executives from many of the largest internet companies will face questions next week at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing about their efforts to prevent foreign meddling in the midterm elections in November, a follow-up to congressional hearings held after the 2016 elections. Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, and Twitter's Jack Dorsey are scheduled to testify in front of the committee.

Google has also been called to testify. Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina and the chairman of the Senate committee, has asked Google to send Sundar Pichai, its chief executive. So far, the company has offered to send Kent Walker, its senior vice president of global affairs.

Mr. Burr said he was unlikely to subpoena Mr. Pichai to testify, but that his absence would signal that Google was choosing "not to participate" and be "part of the solution."

Interfering in how companies like Google and Facebook present information would be a notable departure for the federal government, which has mostly taken a hands-off approach to the internet. Free-speech scholars said companies like Google and Facebook were free to operate with few restrictions thanks to a 1996 law called the Telecommunications Act.

"That law pretty much removes free-speech liability for Google and Facebook," said Roy Gutterman, director of the Tully Center for Free Speech at the Newhouse School. "That being said, I think it'd be a major leap to believe that the people behind Google are writing algorithms to discriminate against content."

Last month, regulators in Europe fined Google $5.1 billion for antitrust violations. After the European fine, Mr. Trump said Google was "one of our great companies."

What sort of pressure regulators in the United States could exert is not entirely clear.

The Justice Department, under both the Trump and Obama administrations, has shown little interest in pursuing antitrust cases against Google or its parent company, Alphabet. Mr. Trump has often raised antitrust questions about another tech giant, Amazon, but little has come of his threats.

Senator Ted Cruz, Republican of Texas, has suggested that if internet companies are not a "neutral platform," they should not be protected by a law known as Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which gives companies broad legal immunity for what people put on their services.

Appearing in front of reporters in the Oval Office on Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Trump offered a vague expansion of his earlier criticism, saying that social news platforms were actively "taking advantage" of people. "We have tremendous, we have literally thousands and thousands of complaints coming in. And you just can't do that," Mr. Trump said.

Mr. Trump's claims of bias appeared to be inspired by a segment Monday night from Lou Dobbs, a host on the Fox Business Network. Mr. Dobbs highlighted an article by a conservative website, PJ Media, that said that it had conducted what it called an unscientific study in which 96 percent of Google search results for the word "Trump" were articles from "left-leaning sites."

The piece was also featured on the website Drudge Report, whose operator, Matt Drudge, was an early supporter of Mr. Trump.

Search engine experts said Google uses many factors in its search algorithm – including how often a web page is linked to by other sites and how often certain words appear on a page – and that formula is constantly being updated.

"Every year, we issue hundreds of improvements to our algorithms to ensure they surface high-quality content in response to users' queries," the company said. "We continually work to improve Google Search and we never rank search results to manipulate political sentiment."

Even longtime Google critics disagreed with the premise of the PJ Media article.

"The industry should have plenty of concerns with Google, particularly antitrust and data collection practices, but this isn't one of them," said Jason Kint, the chief executive of Digital Content Next, an online publishing industry group. "The president's tweets this morning are flat-out absurd."

Long before Facebook, Apple and Google had removed InfoWars from their sites, conservatives were zeroing in on Big Tech as a new enemy in the political culture wars. In February, at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Oxon Hill, Md., guests packed a ballroom for a discussion called "Suppression of Conservative Views on Social Media: A First Amendment Issue."

Although it provided a target for those in attendance, Google was a sponsor of the conference. The company held a reception for conference attendees, with an open bar and a roaring outdoor fireplace.

Peter Schweizer, a right-wing journalist known for his investigations into Hillary Clinton, has followed a similar line of attack as a writer and producer of a new documentary, "The Creepy Line," which argues that Silicon Valley is stifling conservative content. The Daily Caller, a conservative news and opinion website, recently posted the trailer.

During the presidential election, Trump campaign officials claimed Google was manipulating search results to favor Hillary Clinton. But right after the election, the top Google search result for "final election vote count 2016" was a link to a story that wrongly stated that Mr. Trump, who won the Electoral College, had also defeated Mrs. Clinton in the popular vote.

Since then, Google has updated its search algorithm to surface what it calls "more authoritative" news sources.

The internet companies find themselves caught between conservatives who say they are being heavy-handed and others who say they are not doing enough to police their sites. Twitter only suspended Mr. Jones's account, for example, and was condemned by some of its own employees and many on the left for not being tougher.

But the move by other tech giants earlier this month to ban Mr. Jones drew condemnation from a range of conservatives – even some who say they do not care for Mr. Jones. "Who the hell made Facebook the arbiter of political speech?" Mr. Cruz said in a tweet.

Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California and the majority leader, has also raised concerns that Republican voices were being stifled online. He was joined by other Republican House leaders, including Energy and Commerce Committee chairman, Greg Walden, who threatened to subpoena Twitter's chief executive, Jack Dorsey, if he did not testify in Congress in a separate hearing on Sept. 5 on content moderation on the internet.

"Social media platforms are increasingly serving as today's town squares," Mr. McCarthy said in a statement after Mr. Dorsey agreed to testify. "But sadly, conservatives are too often finding their voices silenced."

[Source: By Adam Satariano, Daisuke Wakabayashi and Cecilia Kang, The New York Times, Washington, 28Aug18]

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Privacy and counterintelligence
small logoThis document has been published on 11Sep18 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.