problems with google search getting much worse

New Google algorithm restricts access to left-wing, progressive web sites
Andre Damon, Niles Niemuth, WSWS, Jul 27 2017

image-2Referrals from Google searches to WSWS have fallen by about 70%

In the three months since Google announced plans to keep users from accessing “fake news,” the global traffic rankings of a broad range of left-wing, progressive, anti-war and democratic rights organizations have fallen significantly. On Apr 25 2017, Google announced that it had implemented changes to its search service to make it harder for users to access what it called “low-quality” information such as “conspiracy theories” and “fake news.” The company said in a blog post that the central purpose of the change to its search algorithm was to give the search giant greater control in identifying content deemed objectionable by its guidelines. It declared:

We have improved our evaluation methods and made algorithmic updates to surface more authoritative content. Last month, we updated our Search Quality Rater Guidelines to provide more detailed examples of low-quality webpages for raters to appropriately flag.

These moderators are instructed to flag “upsetting user experiences,” including pages that present “conspiracy theories,” unless “the query clearly indicates the user is seeking an alternative viewpoint.” Google does not explain precisely what it means by the term “conspiracy theory.” Using the broad and amorphous category of fake news, the aim of the change to Google’s search system is to restrict access to alternative web sites, whose coverage and interpretation of events conflict with those of such establishment media outlets as the NYT & WaPo. By flagging content in such a way that it does not appear in the first one or two pages of a search result, Google is able to effectively block users’ access to it. Given the fact that vast amounts of web traffic are influenced by search results, Google is able to effectively conceal or bury content to which it objects through the manipulation of search rankings. Just last month, the European Commission fined the company $2.7b for manipulating search results to inappropriately direct users to its own comparison shopping service, Google Shopping. Now, it appears that Google is using these criminal methods to block users from accessing political viewpoints the company deems objectionable. WSWS has been targeted by Google’s new “evaluation methods.” While in Apr 2017, 422,460 visits to the WSWS originated from Google searches, the figure has dropped to an estimated 120,000 this month, a fall of more than 70%. Even when using search terms such as “socialist” and “socialism,” readers have informed us that they find it increasingly difficult to locate WSWS in Google searches. According to Google’s webmaster tools service, the number of times a WSWS article appeared in a Google search fell from 467,890 a day to 138,275 over the past three months. The average position of articles in searches, meanwhile, fell from 15.9 to 37.2 over the same period. David North of the International Editorial Board of WSWS stated that Google is engaged in political censorship. He said:

WSWS has been in existence for nearly 20 years, and it has developed a large international audience. During this past spring, the number of individual visits to WSWS each month exceeded 900,000. While a significant percentage of our readers enter WSWS directly, many web users access the site through search engines, of which Google is the most widely used. There is no innocent explanation for the extraordinarily sharp fall in readers virtually overnight, coming from Google searches. Google’s claim that it is protecting readers from ‘fake news’ is a politically motivated lie. Google, a massive monopoly with the closest ties to the state and intelligence agencies, is blocking access to the WSWS and other left and progressive web sites through a system of rigged searches.

In the three months since Google implemented the changes to its search engine, fewer people have accessed left-wing and anti-war news sites. Based on information available on Alexa analytics, other sites that have experienced sharp drops in ranking include WikiLeaks, Alternet, Counterpunch, Global Research, Consortium News and Truthout. Even prominent democratic rights groups such as the ACLU and Amnesty International appear to have been hit.

imageA broad range of left-wing, progressive, and anti-war sites have had their traffic rankings fall in recent months

According to Google Trends, the term “fake news” roughly quadrupled in popularity in early November, around the time of the election, as Demagogs, establishment media outlets and intelligence agencies sought to blame “false information” for the electoral victory of Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. On Nov 14, the NYT proclaimed:

Google and Facebook face mounting criticism over how fake news on their sites may have influenced the presidential election’s outcome.

It said they would be taking measures to combat “fake news.” Ten days later, the WaPo published an article called “Russian propaganda effort helped spread ‘fake news’ during election, experts say” which cited an anonymous group known as PropOrNot that compiled a list of “fake news” sites spreading “Russian propaganda.” The list included several sites categorized by the group as “left-wing.” Significantly, it targeted Global Research, which often reposts articles from WSWS. After widespread criticism of what was little more than a blacklist of anti-war and anti-establishment sites, the WaPo was forced to publish a retraction, declaring:

The WaPo, which did not name any of the sites, does not itself vouch for the validity of PropOrNot’s findings.

On Apr 7, Bloomberg News reported that Google was working directly with the WaPo and the NYT to “fact-check” articles and eliminate “fake news.” This was followed by Google’s new search methodology. Three months later, out of the 17 sites declared to be “fake news” by the WaPo’s discredited blacklist, 14 had their global ranking fall. The average decline of the global reach of all of these sites is 25%, and some sites saw their global reach fall by as much as 60%. North stated:

The actions of Google constitute political censorship and are a blatant attack on free speech. At a time when public distrust of establishment media is widespread, this corporate giant is exploiting its monopolistic position to restrict public access to a broad spectrum of news and critical analysis.

Google rigs searches to block access to WSWS
WSWS Editorial Board, Jul 28 2017

An examination of web traffic data clearly shows that Google is manipulating search results to block access to WSWS. In April, under the guise of combatting “fake news,” Google introduced new procedures that give extraordinary powers to unnamed “evaluators” to demote web pages and websites. These procedures have been used to exclude the WSWS and other anti-war and oppositional sites. Over the past three months, traffic originating from Google to the WSWS has fallen by approximately 70%. In key searches relevant to a wide range of topics the WSWS regularly covers, including Pindosi military operations and the threat of war, social conditions, inequality, and even socialism, the number of search impressions referencing WSWS has fallen drastically. An “impression” is a technical term referring to a link shown by Google in response to a search result. If a search for “socialism” leads a user’s computer to show one link to the WSWS, that counts as an impression. By manipulating the “search ranking” assigned to the pages of the WSWS, Google can drive its content lower down on the list of results. This reduces the total number of impressions, which in turn leads to a very low number of “clicks,” or visits to the site. According to Google’s Webmaster Tools Service, the number of daily impressions for WSWS fell from 467,890 to 138,275 over the past three months. WSWS has analyzed data related to the results of specific searches between May and July, that is, the period after Google implemented its new website exclusion policies. To cite some searches:

  • During the month of May, Google searches including the word “war” produced 61,795 WSWS impressions. In July, WSWS impressions fell by approximately 90%, to 6,613.
  • Searches for the term “Korean war” produced 20,392 impressions in May. In July, searches using the same words produced zero WSWS impressions.
  • Searches for “North Korea war” produced 4,626 impressions in May. In July, the result of the same search produced zero WSWS impressions.
  • “India Pakistan war” produced 4,394 impressions in May. In July, the result, again, was zero.
  • “Nuclear war 2017” produced 2,319 impressions in May, and zero in July.
  • “WikiLeaks,” fell from 6,576 impressions to zero.
  • “Julian Assange” fell from 3,701 impressions to zero.
  • “Laura Poitras” fell from 4,499 impressions to zero.
  • “Michael Hastings” fell from 33,464 impressions in May, to 5,227 impressions in July.

In addition to geopolitics, WSWS regularly covers a broad range of social issues, many of which have seen precipitous drops in search results. Searches for “food stamps,” “Ford layoffs,” “Amazon warehouse,” and “secretary of education” all went down from more than 5,000 impressions in May to zero impressions in July. The number of search impressions for WSWS articles in searches including the term “strike” fell by 85% between May and July, from 19,395 to 2,964. Many people who conduct Google searches for these terms do so because they are critical of establishment politics and would be interested in hearing what socialists have to say. However, as a result of Google’s actions, they will not find material published by WSWS. And what about those directly looking for socialist politics? In May, the search term “socialism” generated 31,696 impressions, and the WSWS was ranked between 5th and 6th in search results. In June, the WSWS was removed from the top 100 search results for the term. Thus searches for “socialism” produced zero impressions for WSWS, the most widely read online socialist publication. What about those who are already committed socialists, and want to find out more about Leon Trotsky? Here too, the WSWS, published by the Trotskyist movement, is being blocked. While a query for “Leon Trotsky” resulted in 5,893 impressions in May, that number fell to zero in July. When the WSWS contacted Robert Epstein with our findings, the noted psychologist and Google critic concluded:

I have little doubt that Google demoted you. The evidence is rock solid. Google is manipulating people through search suggestions.

The policy guiding these actions is made absolutely clear in the April 25, 2017 blog post by Google’s Vice President for Engineering, Ben Gomes, and the updated “Search Quality Rater Guidelines” published at the same time. The post refers to the need to flag and demote “unexpected offensive results, hoaxes and conspiracy theories,” broad and amorphous language used to exclude any oppositional content. The rater guidelines are even more explicit. The unnamed “evaluators” are instructed to flag as the “lowest” rating sites that have “factually inaccurate information to manipulate users in order to benefit a person, business, government, or other organization politically, monetarily, or otherwise.” The “lowest” rating is also to be given to a website that “presents unsubstantiated conspiracy theories or hoaxes as if the information were factual.” It is impossible to formulate a more explicit policy of suppression of free speech. These guidelines are written in a way to allow Google to demote or block a massive array of websites that are critical of the government and expose its lies. Who precisely is to determine what is “factually inaccurate information” or what constitutes an “unsubstantiated conspiracy theory”? It in effect bars all expression of opinions, other than those that are acceptable to Google and its allies in the state, particularly the Demagog Party. There is not a publication or journal worth reading that would not fall afoul of these “guidelines.”

Adding to the cynicism of the new procedures is the fact that numerous sources have documented Google’s active involvement in supporting political candidates, specifically Hillary Clinton, by manipulating search results. In his recently published book, Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google, and Amazon cornered culture and undermined democracy, Jonathan Taplin documents the role of Eric Schmidt, the CEO of Google’s parent company Alphabet, in founding a firm called The Groundwork to directly assist the Clinton campaign. Moreover, earlier this year, the European Commission exposed Google’s widespread, deliberate, and criminal manipulation of its search results to promote its own comparison shopping service to the detriment of its competitors. The company was fined $2.7b. In the name of combating “fake news,” Google is providing fake searches. It has been transformed from a search engine into an instrument of censorship. The WSWS will continue to expose Google’s unconstitutional attack on democratic rights. We demand that Google give a full accounting of its procedures, and that it identify who has been given the power to “evaluate” websites. All of Google’s algorithms must be placed in the public domain. Ultimately, the actions of Google provide yet another demonstration of the need to take the dissemination of information out of private control. Powerful search engines cannot be run by monopolies controlled by billionaire oligarchs. They must be placed under democratic control by the working population of the world. There is no question that Google’s action has blocked tens of thousands of people that normally would have found the WSWS from accessing the site. This is the aim. However, a very substantial portion of WSWS readers access the site directly, via social media, or through other search engines, which at least up to this point have not implemented rules that go as far as Google. The WSWS has a loyal and large base of readers and continues to record hundreds of thousands of individual visits a month. We will oppose Google’s political censorship, but we need your support. (appeal follows)
 
Steve Bannon Wants Facebook And Google Regulated Like Utilities
Ryan Grim, The Intercept, Jul 27 2017

Tech companies like Facebook and Google that have become essential elements of 21st-century life should be regulated as utilities, top White House adviser Steve Bannon has argued, according to three people who’ve spoken to him about the issue. Bannon’s push for treating essential tech platforms as utilities pre-dates the Demagog “Better Deal” that was released this week. “Better Deal,” the branding for Demagogs’ political objectives, included planks aimed at breaking up monopolies in a variety of sectors, suggesting that anti-monopoly politics is on the rise on both the right and left. Bannon’s basic argument, as he has outlined it to people who’ve spoken with him, is that Facebook and Google have become effectively a necessity in contemporary life. Indeed, there may be something about an online social network or a search engine that lends itself to becoming a natural monopoly, much like a cable company, a water and sewer system, or a railroad. Regulating a company as a utility does not mean that the government controls it, but rather that it is much more tightly regulated in what it is able to do and prices it is able to charge. And it doesn’t mean every element of the company would be regulated in that way. For Google, which now calls itself Alphabet and has already conveniently broken itself up into discrete elements, it may only be the search function that would be regulated like a utility. Under the Obama administration, the FCC moved forward on a plan to regulate internet service providers as utilities, barring them from slowing down traffic to a site in order to pressure it into paying higher fees. The Trump administration is pushing to reverse that move, which complicates Bannon’s message. Bannon’s argument is bolstered by an unlikely player, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who for years has routinely described Facebook as a “social utility.” In an interview in 2007 with Time magazine, he was asked to elaborate on what had become a central talking point.

Q: Why do you describe Facebook as a “social utility” rather than a “social network”?
A: I think there’s confusion around what the point of social networks is. A lot of different companies characterized as social networks have different goals. Some serve the function of business networking. Some are media portals. What we’re trying to do is just make it really efficient for people to communicate, get information and share information. We always try to emphasize the utility component.

The emphasis on the utility component has disappeared now that Zuckerberg is surrounded by lawyers well versed in monopoly laws, but the argument is as resonant today than it was a decade ago. In fact, more so. Tech companies, meanwhile, have feuded publicly with the administration, particularly over its decision to back out of the Paris climate accord, a move driven by Bannon. Silicon Valley’s liberal cultural politics puts it at odds occasionally with more conservative rural Trump voters. Facebook was confronted by a backlash over its news curating during last year’s presidential campaign. With insiders claiming there was an anti-conservative bias, Facebook pulled its live team off the project and turned its curation over to an algorithm that had little ability to detect whether an article had been utterly fabricated, giving rise to the explosive growth of “fake news,” before the moniker morphed into a description of any news a reader objects to. Silicon Valley caught on late to the Washington game. In 2011, then-chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee Pat Leahy complained that Google had waited too long to hire an armada of lobbyists. Google was playing catch up at the time, and hiring every committee staffer who wasn’t nailed down. Leahy said of the antitrust investigation he was leading:

Sometimes a company should pay attention early on, not just when matters happen. But I can’t tell them, nor would I, who they should hire or not. I consider myself a public works project right here. My colleagues call it the Leahy Full Employment Act.

They have since caught up: In the first few months of the Trump administration, tech firms set new lobbying spending records in Faschingstein.

4 Comments

  1. Posted July 28, 2017 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    i switched to yandex couple of months ago and am pretty satisfied with it, cannot guarantee that its filters also aren’t adjusted for noahide compliance, though nothing as extreme as gugel.

  2. niqnaq
    Posted July 28, 2017 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Hi, Lobro. That’s not a bad idea. Thanks. BTW, their russian to english translation, remember how good it was? Incredible, really.

  3. Sprayandpay
    Posted October 1, 2017 at 11:41 am | Permalink

    Soon as you said democratic I stopped reading. This site like most modern generation people believes in the socialist Kool Aid. Sorry but I refuse to support that. You can’t fix stupid with more stupid. Only a good economy and anti trust against large companies will be a good path. By good economy I mean like the 1960s or better where unemployment was at 2 percent. The economy being better is subjective now for a variety of reasons too long to get into but don’t believe exactly what MSM spouts. There hasn’t really been a (recovery) that is anywhere long term.

  4. niqnaq
    Posted October 1, 2017 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    At this point, no-one is suggesting that you should support it, only that you should oppose censoring it.

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