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My Notes on Google Autocomplete for The Guardian and in response to Dr. Robert Epstein

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I was interviewed by The Guardian for an article they wrote on Google manipulating search results in favor of rightwing content. Do I believe rightwing sites benefited more during the election from Google than left? Yes. Do I think Google manipulated search in anyway to accomplish this goal or to try to accomplish the opposite? No. The Guardian article appears here: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/dec/16/google-autocomplete-rightwing-bias-algorithm-political-propaganda

I shared these notes with the reporter prior to publishing to help clarify my thoughts. I think they're worth publishing somewhere, so I hope they help others or open debate.

Published in: News & Politics
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My Notes on Google Autocomplete for The Guardian and in response to Dr. Robert Epstein

  1. 1. My notes on Google autocomplete for The Guardian article here, in response to Dr. Robert Epstein. Rhea Drysdale | December 17, 2016
  2. 2. Dr. Robert Epstein isn’t unbiased http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/05/one-mans-fight-with-google-over-a- security-warning/?_r=1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Epstein#Criticism_of_Google http://www.cnn.com/2016/11/02/opinions/kremlin-trying-to-rig-election- nimmo-opinion/index.html *All four of his grandparents are from Russia (…something he noted in an article he wrote on dating a Russian chatterbot in 2006). Relevant? Perhaps not, but an interesting observation given the sheer quantity of coverage his research received from Sputnik and RT and the evidence we now have demonstrating Russia’s involvement in trying to rig the election... something Dr. Epstein is saying Google did in favor of Hillary Clinton instead.
  3. 3. Existing Rebuttal to Dr. Epstein from SEOs https://medium.com/@rhea/hillary-clintons-search-results- manipulated-by-sourcefed-not-google-3dd9a5c68ca1 http://ipullrank.com/dr-epstein-you-dont-understand-how-search- engines-work/ https://medium.com/@JLBauman/real-problems-bad-data- 845cc422f273#.aq1twwan9
  4. 4. George Zimmeran found not guilty Dallas police shooting Trayvon Martin killed Google Trends for: “Do blacks commit more crimes” (example used by The Guardian) News coverage during the peaks included these phrases or similar phrases. There was a surge in social content for this topic around these times, too (Reddit, Yahoo! Answers, etc). The question being searched on is a natural response to events that occurred when claims were made by the media, politicians, or other notable figures in one direction or the other.
  5. 5. Why Do Black People Commit More Crime? – The Rationalists https://therationalists.org/2016/07/13/why-do-black-people-commit-more- crime/ Black Crime Rates: What Happens When Numbers Aren't Neutral ... www.huffingtonpost.com/kim-farbota/black-crime-rates-your-st_b_8078586.html Re: Why Do Black People Commit More Crime? – The Alternative ... thealternativehypothesis.org › Uncategorized 7 Statistics You Need To Know About Black-On-Black Crime | Daily Wire www.dailywire.com/.../7-statistics-you-need-know-about-black-black-crime- aaron-ba... “BUT BLACKS COMMIT MORE CRIMES”: Scholars discuss ... https://thesocietypages.org/toolbox/blacks_commit_more_crimes_1/ Why do blacks commit 52% of homicides in the USA despite being 13 ... https://www.quora.com/Why-do-blacks-commit-52-of-homicides-in-the-USA- despite-be... Are black Americans incarcerated more than whites because they ... https://www.quora.com/Are-black-Americans-incarcerated-more-than-whites- because-... Poverty/Crime Excuse Smashed - The New Observer newobserveronline.com/povertycrime-excuse-smashed/ Criminal stereotype of African Americans – Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criminal_stereotype_of_African_Americans This is the 1st page of Google results for “do blacks commit more crimes” The real issue is what’s displayed in search results after the query. Since the election we’ve had two very credible news organizations reach out to Outspoken Media, because neither invested in SEO much before and they recognize they’re losing traction to clickbait sites over long form investigative journalism. Journalists have to accept that search is driven by content that is written, queries that are performed, and human interests! If journalists are trying to connect with anyone outside of their existing audience and they are not investing in SEO, then they have failed in their mission. Fake news isn’t the issue, it’s that real news isn’t working as hard as the fake. Google can only return content that exists for a particular search and sites like these are intentionally optimizing for these queries! Trusted news sources are not. Experts are not. They have to write the natural language query out and answer it.
  6. 6. Autocomplete suggestions are shaped by popular searches • When someone writes an article that says type “Hillary Clinton is…” in search, you will get a flood of people from different IP addresses conducting this search. What they type in next will shape the results. • It used to be “easy” to shape autocomplete results by using services like Amazon’s Mechanical Turk or oDesk or do a more “white-hat” approach with an ad campaign telling viewers to search for something. • It’s harder to do today, but is still done. And, each time someone notable says something that needs to be fact checked like Trump or Clinton during the debates, it forces a flood of searches and coverage that may not be coming from trusted sources.
  7. 7. Google doesn’t have an opinion anymore than they recognize entities and relationships (that may look like opinions in search) or sources whose opinions they trust to be the credible answer for how the algorithm shapes that SERP index. Search intent is visible in search result types, e.g. a definition appears for “climate change is…” (Google does NOT believe climate change is a hoax or they wouldn’t have defined it, but that’s not a personal Google belief, that’s data working).
  8. 8. When you keep typing or select the recommended autocomplete result, you might get something like: Google isn’t supposed to BE the answer. They display content that matches your query. They run tests to see if users like a new search feature and it helps them get to the information they want quicker. The problem here is that everyone is operating from a different level of technical literacy, news literacy, social literacy, views, opinions, beliefs, etc. What we should question is whether these technological features (especially ones that can be manipulated with a casual false statement by Trump… or marketers), even if we like them, benefit humanity or do not. As a marketer, I like autocomplete results, because they give me information about human behavior. As a human, I think Google autocomplete oversimplifies the research process and has contributed to the dumbing down of the world.

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