Is Google manipulating autocomplete results to favor Clinton? Report shows search engine's bias and how negative suggestions about Hillary are removed.
A research psychologist has detailed the results of an investigation which he says shows how Google is manipulating its results to favor Hillary Clinton. Robert Epstein estimated that biased suggestions could shift up to three million votes in the upcoming November election in an article explaining his findings.
Epstein said his research followed up claims in a viral video released by Sourcefed in June, which alleged the tech giant was tinkering with its search suggestions to cast Clinton in a positive light. The video, narrated by Matt Lieberman, used numerous examples to demonstrate that various searches related to Clinton appeared to yield only positive suggestions – despite Google Trends showing negative searches were common.
This occurred despite other search engines, including Bing and Yahoo, giving both positive and negative searches.
Google responded by insisting that the company favors no candidate or cause – but admitted searches are censored. In a blog post in June, the company said: ‘The autocomplete algorithm is designed to avoid completing a search for a person’s name with terms that are offensive or disparaging.
‘This filter operates according to the same rules no matter who the person is.
But notably, Lieberman found that Google showed autocomplete did produce negative results for Bernie Sanders - Clinton’s opponent for the Democratic nomination – and Donald Trump.
Since then, Epstein and his colleagues at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology – which he explained is a non-profit and non-partisan organization – investigated Lierberman’s claims and found their results supported his, but clarified that the research is ongoing.
Robert Epstein found that Google only gave positive results such as 'winning' and 'awesome' compared to Yahoo and Bing which yielded both positive and negative suggestions
This is despite 'Hillary Clinton is a liar' proving to be a much more popular search term on Google Trends
Google explained that it removes negative search suggestions, but searching for 'Donald Trump is' gave one bizarre option suggesting the GOP candidate is dead
Epstein said he and his colleagues tested hundreds of election-related search terms.
To ensure that searches were not customized to their personal search history by using proxy servers and the Tor network and clearing cache and cookies ‘fairly obsessively.’
But for Clinton, they appear to be withheld even when those same terms are proven to be extremely popular in Google Trends – thus disproving the company’s claim that autocomplete shows the most popular terms people are searching for.
He also refuted Google’s explanation that this is because negative searches are universally withheld because his research found that they appear to be suppressed selectively. For example, Epstein showed screenshots of the results when he searched the term ‘Hillary Clinton is’ leaving a space after ‘is’ on August 3.
Bing and Yahoo offered numerous negative suggestions to finish the phrase including liar, criminal and evil. But Google only gave two: ‘Hillary Clinton is winning’ and ‘Hillary Clinton is awesome.’ He also showed a Google Trends screenshot which showed that ‘Hillary Clinton is a liar’ was a far more popular search that either of the other two choices Google provided with autocomplete. However, as Google claims this is because it roots out negative results, then Epstein conducted the same search using Trump’s name – and found it gave two choices again.
After Donald Trump dubbed Clinton 'Crooked Hillary,' searches for the term soared
But typing crooked into Google resulted in no suggestions for Clinton, whereas on Yahoo and Bing, 'Crooked Hillary' was in the top two results
One was ‘Donald Trump is awesome’ but the other result was ‘Donald Trump is dead,’ which he suggests should have been filtered. Epstein showed how Google’s bias appears to extend to her running mate Tim Kaine.
After Trump dubbed the Virginia senator ‘Corrupt Kaine’ – the term saw a massive surge in popularity on Google, proven by a screenshot from Google Trends on June 27 that Epstein provided.
Despite this, when Epstein tried to conduct an autocomplete search for ‘Corrupt Ka’ – there were no results at all about Kaine.
Epstein showed Google’s bias appears to extend to running mate Tim Kaine. Above, Google Trends showed searches for 'Corrupt Kaine' soared after Trump gave him the nickname
Searching 'Corrupt Ka' on Google gives nothing about Kaine, but on Yahoo, just typing corrupt leads to a result about the Virginia senator
A search on Yahoo, meanwhile, for simply the world ‘corrupt’ gave ‘Corrupt Kaine’ as the second suggested search.
Similarly, Epstein says that the word ‘crooked’ generated no suggestions for Clinton in numerous searches in June and July even though the term ‘Crooked Hillary’ was popular due to Trump’s nickname for his rival.
He said had to type ‘Crooked H-I-L-L-A’ before Google suggested to get a result for Clinton and even then, the suggested term was ‘Crooked Hillary Bernie.’ Both Bing and Yahoo, however, listed ‘Crooked Hilalry’ near the top of their suggestions lists. Epstein said that he found that Google searches were not always pro-Clinton and anti-Trump.
Searching for ‘Hillary Clinton hea’ on Google gives no indication that the candidate’s health issues are frequently searched
Only typing 'h' after Clinton's name gives 'health' and 'health issues' as the top suggestions on Bing
On Yahoo, only typing 'hill' is sufficient to give a number of searches about Clinton's health
Google Trends shows that searches for 'Hillary Clinton health' have risen drastically since May
But what he discovered was that Google allegedly mask their bias by suppressing only the most popular of the negative search terms.
For instance, a search on August 2 generated no suggestions for ‘anti Hillary’ but did for ‘anti Clinton’ and ‘anti Hillary Clinton’ did.
Anti Trump’ however gave four results, including ‘anti Trump cartoon’ and ‘anti Trump song.’
‘Anti Hillary’ consisted generated no results, he said, and found that the term was drawing much more traffic according to Google Trends than the others.
‘Google, it seems, is playing this game both consistently and slyly,’ Epstein writes. ‘It is saving its bias for the most valuable real estate — trending, high-value terms — and eliminating signs of bias for terms that have lost their value.’ Epstein also used a very recent example to demonstrate Google’s apparent bias.
Questions surrounding Clinton’s health have dominated the news cycle recently – but Google autocomplete choices would suggest otherwise. Searching for ‘Hillary Clinton hea’ gives no indication that the candidate’s health is a frequently searched term – instead offering searches for health care, headquarters, hearing and headquarters chicago. Bing, on the other hand, gives health as a result even after only typing the letter ‘h’ after Clinton’s name as well as the term ‘health issues.’
Yahoo shows how dominant the issue is by giving the options ‘Hillary Clinton illness’ and ‘Hillary Clinton health issues’ after just typing ‘hill.’ A search on Google today for the term ‘Hillary Clinton h’ yields nothing related to health – giving the choices ‘height, headquarters, hamilton and house’ instead. And for the record, Epstein notes that he supports Hillary Clinton for president.
But he added: ‘I do not believe, however, that it would be right for her to win the presidency because of the invisible, large-scale manipulations of a private company. ‘That would make democracy meaningless, and that is why I am trying to keep the public informed about my research findings.’