Google excluded major conservative and alt-media outlets from its search results for hours, hiding hits for sites like Breitbart and RedState even in searches for the outlets’ names – only to mysteriously revert to normal later.
Conservative sites were in a panic Tuesday morning, reporting they seemed to have been blacklisted from Google. Articles and pages published by PJ Media, Daily Caller, The Blaze, and many other sites were absent even from searches for the publication name, replaced by links to Wikipedia and other sites talking about the outlet in question – usually negatively.
While most of the affected sites hailed from the right side of the political spectrum, leftist sites whose views don’t conform to prevailing orthodoxy also appeared to fall victim to the purge. Mediaite’s Charlie Nash posted a screenshot of a Google search for “MintPress News” that included no hits from the left-leaning antiwar outlet, while another commenter noted Occupy Democrats was MIA.
Google was quick with the damage control, announcing it was “investigating this and any potentially related issues.” The search giant described the problem as if it was merely an issue with one specific search command rather than a politically-specific problem that somehow left establishment-friendly media alone.
After a few hours, searches were working normally again. However, those affected had their own suspicions about why this extremely specific search plague might have hit “wrongthink” websites all at once.
Perhaps realizing that simply returning the news sites to their rightful place in search results wouldn’t silence critics, Google later released a statement acknowledging “an issue that impacted some navigational and site: operator searches.” However, they denied any “particular sites or political ideologies” were targeted.
Project Veritas, one of the sites affected by the search blackout, interviewed a Google whistleblower last year who revealed the company has multiple “blacklists” for both YouTube and regular web search, one of which includes many of the sites that went missing on Tuesday.
Additionally, internal Google communications from 2016 show employees considered burying or blocking search results from conservative outlets in the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s electoral victory, specifically naming the Daily Caller and Breitbart – both of which were affected by the temporary blackout. While it eventually opted to run “fact-checks” next to conservative articles instead, that program was short-lived, having been quietly discontinued after its many shortcomings were exposed by the right-leaning outlets it invariably targeted. The “fact-checks” sometimes critiqued statements the original articles had not even made, and occasionally ran alongside unrelated articles.
As November’s elections loom, Google and other tech firms are likely scrambling to prevent a rerun of 2016. With 88 percent of US search engine market share, Google’s results will figure heavily in the information American voters can access in the next few months.