On Wednesday, Donald Trump escalated his war with major US tech companies he and other prominent conservatives have been baselessly accusing of censoring right-wingers. In a video with an ominous soundtrack posted to his Twitter account, the US president’s team accused search giant Google of featuring links to live streams of former President Barack Obama’s State of the Union addresses but not his.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 29, 2018
The video, which appears to have been culled from an internet archiving service such as the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, shows Google’s homepage featuring links to live streams of Obama’s State of the Union below the main search bar from the years 2012-2016. In 2017 and 2018, the first two years of Trump’s term, the video appears to show the links to his equivalent speeches conspicuously absent.
Spoiler: Google says this is not true. According to a spokesperson for the company, they did not feature the link in 2017 for Trump’s speech to Congress, but neither did they do so for Obama’s first one in 2009. That’s because while these first-year speeches are often referred to as State of the Union events in popular parlance, they’re formally just addresses to Congress.
In 2018, Google said the link was indeed present:
On January 30 2018, we highlighted the livestream of President Trump’s State of the Union on the google.com homepage. We have historically not promoted the first address to Congress by a new President, which is technically not a State of the Union address. As a result, we didn’t include a promotion on google.com for this address in either 2009 or 2017.
Gizmodo has asked Google for a screenshot of the homepage featuring the link. However, in response to requests from other media organisations, the search giant directed reporters to a post from the subreddit for Trump’s supporters, r/The_Donald, dated from the evening of the January 30th speech. That post clearly shows the Google homepage featuring a link reading: “Live! Watch President Trump’s State of the Union Address on YouTube.”
Occam’s Razor is that the White House haphazardly searched results from the Wayback Machine, which does show just a standard Google landing page for the dates in question, or something like it. But the Wayback Machine does not necessarily appear to have archived the version of the Google homepage that appeared to all users. For example, its archive of Google.com on January 29th, 2018 shows a standard company logo, though the company’s website lists a Google Doodle in commemoration of pop singer Teresa Teng’s 65th birthday as running on that date.
Whoever did this research for the president could have simply been mistaken. However, State of the Union speeches and joint addresses are some of the highest-profile events of any presidency. The claim that Trump’s communications staff would have failed to notice an omission of that magnitude until right now when the president is in the middle of an anti-Silicon Valley kick, barrels right through the limits of credibility. (Multiple entries on Google’s official blog show that the search giant coordinated with the White House for State of the Union week-themed content in the Obama era.)
In other words, the president thinks you’re all morons. News at 11.
Update, 7:38pm ET: By the way, Trump has pinned this video to the top of his Twitter account, meaning it is the first thing millions of visitors to his profile will see.
Update, 8:10pm ET: As flagged by Gizmodo commenter Daz, there’s another major discrepancy in Trump’s video. The portion of the clip showing a purported screenshot of the Google homepage in 2016 shows this version of the search company’s logo:
But that’s not what the Google homepage would have looked like on the date in question. Google updated its logo in September 2015 to a version with a sans-serif typeface that looks like this:
This version of the Google logo can be plainly seen in the archived version of the site’s homepage on January 8th, 2016, days before screenshot supposedly captured in Trump’s video.
In other words, sure looks like at least one of Trump’s screenshots was sloppily doctored. We reiterate: The president thinks you’re all morons.
Update, 11:30pm ET: As if you needed more evidence this whole thing is a manufactured controversy, Mark Graham, the director of the Internet Archive, sent over additional Wayback Machine-archived versions of Google’s homepage clearly showing links to Trump’s speech. (Times shown are in GMT.)
Graham characterised these links as a “bit hard” to find and not easily accessible from the site’s web interface. But see for yourself:
Correction: A prior version of this piece misstated the URL where the Wayback Machine can be accessed. It is Archive.org, not Internet.org. We regret the error.