Does Google Actually Censor Search Results Like Conspiracy Theorists Claim?
We've all been in a position where we've been furiously scanning the internet in an attempt to find validation for a thought or belief we've expressed. We're all guilty of a little confirmation bias, but it's not bias if you can find reliable sources to back up the claims you've bought into... until you can't.
The adult thing to do in these scenarios is to admit you're wrong or look into the credibility of opposing viewpoints. Or you can shout to the heavens, "Why does Google censor the truth?!"
Does Google really censor "the truth" and why would they ban certain information in the first place?
Alphabet, the company that owns Google, has some 118,899 full-time employees on its staff that perform a variety of tasks. Many of them are, you guessed it, software and technical engineers, as Google's strong suit has always been its free-to-use software like the Chrome Browser, Chrome OS, Android OS, suite of Google products, YouTube, and not to mention its ridiculously powerful search engine.
PageRank is the algorithm that powers Google's searches. The keyword here is algorithm: it's impossible for a staff, even of 118,899 people, to personally censor specific news stories and information that's constantly being published and disseminated on the web. In fact, Google handles some 100 billion searches a month... a staggering number.
So to understand how Google "censors" certain information, is to understand how its algorithm works.
How Stuff Works does a pretty darn good job of summing up the incredibly complex process, so I'll let them take it from here:
"Google uses automated programs called spiders or crawlers, just like most search engines, to help generate its search results. Google has a large index of keywords that help determine search results."
"What sets Google apart is how it ranks its results, which determines the order Google displays results on its search engine results pages. Google uses a trademarked algorithm called PageRank, which assigns each web page a relevancy score."
PageRank implements a variety of different factors that "weighs" a search result's relevance and increases the possibility of it showing up in your results. There are three "main" rules:
- "The frequency and location of keywords within the web page: If the keyword appears only once within the body of a page, it will receive a low score for that keyword."
- "How long the web page has existed: People create new web pages every day, and not all of them stick around for long. Google places more value on pages with an established history."
The third is perhaps the most important, however:
- "The number of other web pages that link to the page in question: Google looks at how many web pages link to a particular site to determine its relevance."
This is "because Google looks at links to a web page as a vote, it's not easy to cheat the system."
Does Google "censor" certain health information? The bar's supposedly set "very high."
A number of websites and internet services have taken a proactive stance against the dissemination of anti-vaccination information: GoFundMe, Amazon, Google, and a number of other huge corporations have kiboshed anti-vaxxing rhetoric on its platforms. One Google forum user, OptimistPrime, breaks down how health-related search results are weighted more stringently than other web pages.
When responding to a question regarding the "censorship" of information on Google, OptimistPrime responded, "No censorship, if you want to find something completely unsavory you can still discover it in search. But, in terms of anything health related, due to consumer risk there is a very high bar set. This means that sites publishing health advice have to meet much stricter criteria for inclusion in top search results than virtually any other topic."
Google has been accused of "censoring" its searches in countries like China and Iran, where they've acquiesced to a number of requests (reportedly half) in the areas to comply with local laws. The Mountain Valley company has come under criticism for "succumbing" to the governments of these countries. Currently, Google services have been banned in China since 2010.
In many Arab countries, Google's software products and features are limited as well. Business Insider has recently compiled a list of countries that ask the Big G to ban the most content: Pakistan, the Netherlands, Australia, Thailand, China, Japan, Argentina, Canada, Spain, Israel, Italy, South Korea, France, Germany, Britain, India, the U.S., Turkey, and Russia. The latter country leads the pack with national security being the main reason for the ban requests.
Other countries have also cited national security, along with privacy, defamation, fraud, violence, religious offenses, and government criticism being the main incentives for the removal of such content.