President Donald Trump has accused search giant Google of deliberately highlighting negative news about his administration, and “controlling what we can and cannot see.” Trump vowed that the situation “will be addressed.”
“Google search results for ‘Trump News’ shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake New Media. In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD,” the president exclaimed via Twitter on Tuesday morning.
“Google & others are suppressing voices of Conservatives and hiding information and news that is good,” he continued. “They are controlling what we can & cannot see. This is a very serious situation-will be addressed!”
In one of his early-morning tweets, Trump pondered whether Google’s apparent search bias, which he claims shows 96 percent of results from ‘National Left-Wing Media,” is “Illegal.” He did not elaborate on what kind of action he may be considering taking, but his sentiment is in line with earlier statements on censorship
Trump deleted the pair of tweets shortly after posting them, but reposted them several hours later, with minor spelling adjustments.
Last week, Trump tweeted his concern that “Social media giants are silencing millions of people,” but ruled out intervening, “even if it means we must continue to hear Fake News like CNN.”
Trump’s Tuesday rant comes following a report by conservative news commentary site PJ Media. The report found that when searching for ‘Trump News’ on Google, the first page of results was entirely dominated by articles from left-leaning American media. Out of the first 100 results, only five were from right-leaning sites; two from the center-right Wall Street Journal, and three from Fox News.
The outlets that Trump often feuds with feature prominently in the first 100 results. CNN appeared most frequently, followed by the Washington Post, and then by NBC. Right-wing news sites like Breitbart, National Review, OAN, and the Daily Caller were all completely absent from the results.
Last year, a Harvard study found that 93 percent of both CNN and NBC’s coverage of the Trump administration was negative in tone. The Washington Post was slightly more positive, but 83 percent of its stories about Trump were still negative.
Google and other tech giants have been repeatedly accused of censorship by conservatives in the US. Whether it’s Twitter’s ‘shadowbanning’ of Republicans, Facebook’s ranking of news sources by an opaque ‘trust’ score, or Youtube’s ‘accidental’ removal of conservative channels; the American right feels mistreated by liberal-leaning Silicon Valley.
But Google has denied any accusations of political bias. Responding to Trump’s allegations of censorship on Tuesday, the company said that search results are not ordered according to any political preferences. “When users type queries into the Google Search bar, our goal is to make sure they receive the most relevant answers in a matter of seconds,” Google said in a statement, adding that results are not skewed toward any “political ideology” or “political agenda”.
Anti-war movement feels the pressure
While calls to regulate the increasing dominance of the tech titans have come mostly from the right, censorship is increasingly a threat to the left too. Earlier this month, Telesur English – a Latin American news network partly funded by the Venezuelan government – found its page abruptly removed from Facebook. No explanation was given, and the page was eventually restored. However, the removal fit in to a wider trend. Another Venezuelan news site was removed a week previously, as was a Facebook page belonging to leftist group Occupy London.
The World Socialist Web Site reported last year that changes to Google’s algorithms had negatively impacted left-wing socialist and anti-war websites. An analysis by WSWS found that 13 such websites had seen their traffic plunge by a whopping 55 percent in the six months since Google had changed its algorithms. WSWS itself experienced a 74-percent drop in traffic between April and July last year. The changes also affected sites like Alternet, which saw its traffic plunge by 71 percent between April and September, Democracy Now (50-percent drop) and Truth-out.org (49-percent drop).
What could Trump do?
One of the actions Trump could take would be to have the Justice Department threaten Google with antitrust legislation. First seen in the US with the introduction of the Sherman Act of 1890, antitrust legislation targeted the railroad and oil monopolies at the time, allowing the federal government to step in and take legal action to keep the market competitive.
This idea has been touted by New York attorney general candidate Zephyr Teachout, who promised a “major antitrust investigation” if elected. It has also been discussed in the editorial pages of the Boston Globe, the New York Times, and the Guardian, all of whom expressed concern at the ever-expanding reach of the nascent tech monopolies.
The George W. Bush administration threatened Google with antitrust action in 2008, as Google sought to form a search advertising partnership with competitor Yahoo, a move that would have seen the potential partnership control 90 percent of the search market.
Today, Google does control 90 percent of that market. However, in prosecuting an antitrust case, the onus would be on the government to prove that not only is Google a monopoly, but that it acted maliciously to reach that position. In 2000, the Department of Justice convicted Microsoft of an antitrust monopolization offense for illegally requiring manufacturers to pre-install the Windows operating system, and for pre-installing Internet Explorer as the default web browser.
In Europe, Google has already been fined billions of euros this year for antitrust violations. EU regulators found that by forcing Android users to rely on Google’s search engine, it was unfairly restricting competition. In a addition, Google was fined $2.7 billion last year by the EU for manipulating search results to favor its own shopping services.