WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump lashed out at Google and other internet firms in an early morning pair of tweets, calling them “rigged” in the way that they rank news about his presidency.
He even suggested that the alleged practice was “illegal,” and that it was a “very serious 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. Fake CNN is prominent. Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out. Illegal? 96% of…
He added, “….results on “Trump News” are from National Left-Wing Media, very dangerous. Google & others are suppressing voices of Conservatives and hiding information and news that is good. They are controlling what we can & cannot see. This is a very serious situation-will be addressed!” The tweets were sent at 5:24 a.m. and 5:34 a.m.
Later, Trump told reporters that “Google has really taken advantage of a lot of people. And I think that’s a very serious thing, and it’s a very serious charge.”
“Google and Twitter and Facebook, they’re really treading on very, very troubled territory, and they have to be careful. It’s not fair to large portions of the population.”
This was just the latest example of Trump making the case that social media and internet companies are biased against conservative voices, but there is little if no evidence that it is systematic. Trump appeared to have been referred to anecdotal accounts and individual cases, and was echoing a complaint that lawmakers like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) have been making for some time.
Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg are expected to testify on Capitol Hill on Sept. 5, when the issue is expected to be raised by GOP lawmakers. Google also is expected to send a senior executive.
Google issued a statement through a spokesperson.
“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,” the company said. “Search is not used to set a political agenda and we don’t bias our results toward any political ideology. Every year, we issue hundreds of improvements to our algorithms to ensure they surface high-quality content in response to users’ queries. We continually work to improve Google Search and we never rank search results to manipulate political sentiment.”
Trump’s top economic adviser Larry Kudlow was asked whether the administration was supportive of the idea of regulating Google searches. “We’re taking a look at it,” Kudlow said. Any attempt to restrict the way that Google designs its algorithms would likely raise First Amendment issues.
John Samples, vice president at the Cato Institute, wrote in an op ed that “even if Google biased their search algorithm, the company has no obligation, legal or otherwise, to provide search results favoring or disfavoring the president.”
“He seems to be fostering a conspiracy theory about Google — ‘they are controlling what we can & cannot see’ — to divert attention from his political difficulties over the past week,” he wrote. “But a place where the leader fosters conspiracy theories for political gain is called a banana republic, not a constitutional government.”
Already, internet giants are facing scrutiny over issues like privacy and Russian influence campaigns, but Congress is not on the cusp of passing any kind of legislation anytime soon. Trump’s attacks on the search giants align with his ongoing attacks on the news media as “fake news” and the “enemy of the people,” a grievance he often turns to at rallies of his supporters.
Trump is also echoing complaints from some Republicans on Capitol Hill. When Mark Zuckerberg testified on Capitol Hill in April, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) focused not on Russian interference in the 2016 election, but allegations that Facebook was biased against conservative-oriented content. As an example, he pointed to a Facebook decision to shut down a Chick-fil-A appreciation day page.
Zuckerberg said that he understood “where that concern is coming from because Facebook and the tech industry are located in the Silicon Valley which is an extremely left-leaning place. And this is actually a concern that I have and that I try to root out in the company — is making sure that we don’t have any bias in the work that we do.”
The notion of bias, however, likely will continue to be be an issue for the platforms.
David Chavern, president and CEO of the News Media Alliance, which represents newspaper publishers, said that internet companies will have to be more transparent about their algorithms. “This gets back to the fact that they have these algorithms that control what you see and what you don’t see, and the algorithms are secret,” he said. “As long as have secret rules of what see and don’t see, people are going to say rules are biased.”
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) claimed in a tweet that he was unable to view a post by Fox News’s Laura Ingraham, which was labeled as containing sensitive content. “Another day, another example of conservatives being censored on social media,” he wrote. But other users quickly pointed out that the problem was not Twitter censorship, but McCarthy’s own privacy and content settings.
A late afternoon Google search for “Trump news” yielded just what you’d expect: The latest news from the White House, including multiple stories about his attacks on Google.