Why it matters: As the leading search engine serving billions of users, Google employees wanted to intentionally implement bias into search results pages. Instead of returning the most relevant results ignoring personal opinions, Googlers wanted results matching their own political views to be shown which would completely destroy the integrity of Google Search.
Search engines are critical tools of the internet that make it possible to discover new content. Although social media now plays a larger part in content discovery, search engines are still responsible for an astoundingly large amount of web traffic. Google is often the “go to” search engine and keeps a tight lid on how exactly its ranking algorithms work in the name of preventing manipulation.
Google has very good reasons as to why its internal ranking system is not explained to the public, but this lack of transparency also has other implications. As a company with vast influence across the entire planet, Google’s search results can quickly change public perception of events. As discovered by the Wall Street Journal, Google employees were found to be discussing how to intentionally manipulate search results to counter President Donald Trump’s travel ban.
Following executive orders to restrict immigration from certain countries, emails between Google employees show discussion on how to best oppose the plan. In a brainstorming chain of emails, words such as Islam, Iran, Muslim, Mexico, Hispanic, Latino, and others were suggested to trigger ads for groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and display other resources opposing the travel ban.
Internal communications do contain warnings about participating in politically motivated activities and that there is an expectation of neutrality, but these cautionary notes did not put an end to the conversation. One Googler writes, “I know this would require a full on sprint to make happen, but I think this is the sort of super timely and imperative information that we need as we know that this country, and Google, would not exist without immigration.”
Although Google is adamant that none of these ideas were ever implemented, it does raise some questions as to why Google would not put a stop to any such discussions immediately to protect their reputation from being dragged through the mud. Despite the fact that there is no known wrongdoing, Google has come extremely close to abusing its platform.