After it was widely reported that the first Google search result for “Did the Holocaust happen?” was from Stormfront, a white supremacist website, Google decided to alter its algorithm to remove Holocaust denial sites all together.
Shoes taken from Jewish prisoners at Auschwitz via Getty | Screenshots via Google
When the news first broke, Google said it would not remove the article — titled “Top 10 reasons why the holocaust didn’t happen” — from its results because the company does “not remove content from [its] search results, except in very limited cases such as illegal content, malware and violations of our webmaster guidelines.”
But Google had a change of heart. A spokesperson told Digital Trends that the company doesn’t always “Judging which pages on the web best answer a query is a challenging problem and we don’t always get it right.” The spokesperson also emphasised that the company strives “to give users a breadth of diverse content from variety of sources and…[is] committed to the principle of a free and open web.”
This is a major shift for the company. In 2008, Google founder Sergey Brin said in an interview with Israeli politician Yair Lapid:
An important part of our values as a company is that we don’t edit the search results. What our algorithms produce, whether we like it or not, are the search results. I think people want to know we have unbiased search results.
Google made sure to emphasise it is still sorting its results automatically, and that the company had simply “made improvements” to its algorithm when it comes to “non-authoritative information.” The spokesperson said that this “will help surface more high quality, credible content on the web.”
We’ve reached out to Google to ask more about the company’s decision to alter its algorithm, and what that means for the future of fake news. Maybe Google could lend some of its Silicon Valley peers a helping hand with all that.
Now when you search “did the Holocaust happen?” Stormfront appears to have disappeared entirely.
Results for “Did the Holocaust happen?” on 12/26/2016
The company has also corrected the results to “are Jews evil?” — when you search a variety of suggestively hateful questions, it mostly directs to news about the search results scandal. When you search “are Muslims evil?” there isn’t anything Islamophobic until the fourth result. Baby steps.
Results for “are Jews evil?” and “are Muslims evil?” on 12/26/2016
However, when you google “are black people inferior?” the first result is still racist.
Results for “are black people inferior?” on 12/26/2016
“We’ll continue to change our algorithms over time in order to tackle these challenges,” the Google spokesperson said.