Is Left-Leaning Google
Censoring Right-Leaning Websites?
Noel Sheppard and Marc Sheppard
frighteningly ominous has been happening on the Internet lately: Google,
without any prior explanation or notice, has been terminating its News
relationship with conservative e-zines and web journals.
At first blush, one
can easily ignore such business decisions by the most powerful company on
the Internet as being routine. However, on closer examination, such
behavior could give one relatively small (when measured by the size of its
workforce) technology corporation a degree of political might that frankly
dwarfs even its current financial prowess.
So Easy Being A Conservative E-Zine
by NewsBusters, the most recent occurrence of this
unexplained phenomenon was Friday, May 19, when Frank Salvato, proprietor
of The New Media Journal, realized
that his content that day hadn’t been disseminated at Google News as it
had been on a daily basis since he reached an agreement with the search
engine in September 2005.
After sending the
Google Help Desk a query concerning the matter, Salvato was informed that
there had been complaints of “hate speech” at his website, and as a
result, The New Media Journal would no longer be part of
Google News. As evidence of his offense, the Google Team supplied Salvato
with links to three recent op-eds published by his contributing writers,
all coincidentally about radical Islam and its relation to terrorism.
was not the first conservative e-zine to be terminated in such a fashion.
On March 29, Rusty Shackleford, owner of The Jawa Report,
received a similar e-mail message
as Salvato informing him that:
review, we’ve found that your site contains hate speech, and we will
no longer be including it in Google News.”
unfamiliar, The Jawa Report focuses a great deal of
attention on terrorist issues and how they relate to radical Islam.
Two weeks after
Jawa was cut from Google News, Jim Sesi’s MichNews.com was banished
on April 12. In Sesi’s case, the three pieces provided as examples of
“hate speech” were articles by conservative writer J. Grant Swank,
Jr., all about – you guessed it – radical Islam and terrorism.
See a trend here?
As a sidebar, the NewsBusters
article that first broke this story on May 19 cannot be found by doing a
Google News search even though other recent articles by NewsBusters can.
To be sure, there
have been complaints in the past from conservative bloggers that Google
seems to have dubious requirements to be a part of its News Crawl. In
February 2005, Michelle Malkin wrote
of the difficulties she was having becoming part of Google News. At
roughly the same time, Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs
about not being able to curry Google’s favor.
Yet, in the current
instance, what is indeed odd is that some of the supposedly offensive
content is still available at Google News even if some of the publishers
aren’t. Arlene Peck’s “How Has Islam Enriched Your Life?” is still
being promoted by Google News at
InfoIsrael.net even though it is no longer linked by Google
News to The New Media Journal.
The same is true of
Barbara Stock’s “Islam is as Islam Does,” which can still be found
via Google News at
Renew America. And, Amil Imani’s “Islam: A
False Religion” can still be found through Google News at
Think and Ask.
As such, the three
articles that appalled Google News to an extent that necessitated ties
between it and The New Media Journal be severed can still be
found at other sites by accessing Google News.
That doesn’t make
much sense, does it?
understand the hypocrisy here, a little background concerning Google
technology is required. When Google News launched its Beta Release Site in
April 2002, it introduced to the world a new paradigm in information
delivery. Its mission: To construct a totally unbiased news engine, based
on a principle of human nonintervention, fully automated both in its
gathering and editing of news.
Google begins the
process via conventional methods of aggregating news from sources
worldwide, launching programs known as News Crawlers. Unlike its cousin
the Web Crawler, a News Crawler is highly specialized in that it harvests
information from a table of predefined news sites. This targeted approach
makes for a distinctively agile transaction, allowing the crawl to be
efficient and swift. This celerity is a vital attribute of a “news”
crawler, as data refreshment needs to take place at short, regular
intervals in order to assure the inclusion of “breaking news.”
Google’s system from its competitors is that captured plaintext
descriptions, links, and, where available, images, are then stored in
Google’s mammoth database, where they are indexed and ranked on an
up-to-the-minute citation relevance scale by proprietary real-time
artificial intelligence algorithms without any decisions from human
editors. This method, in theory, provides everyone using Google’s search
engine with the best coverage for each story they seek out, while
shielding Google from any potential claims of bias.
Speak For Themselves
results have been stellar. Google has quickly moved to the forefront of
all things Internet. According to the April 2006 Nielsen/NetRatings report,
49 percent of all searches conducted in the U.S. in March 2006 were
carried out on Google. This is an astounding market share that continues
to grow. In addition, a recent study
by Hitwise ranked Google News as the fifth most visited news website
behind Yahoo, the Weather Channel, MSNBC, and CNN, clearly making it a
growing force in news aggregation.
has given the company unprecedented influence on society. Appearing on the
first page of any word search result list all but assures higher hit
rates, which equates to higher revenues for e-tailers as well as brick and
mortar retailers using the web to drive traffic, and more reads for news
and opinion providers.
In fact, Google
ranking can actually be a determining factor in the success and, perhaps,
very viability of online business ventures, especially to companies with
limited or no domain name recognition. This reality has given rise to a
cottage industry that offers enterprises measures to improve their
standings. These Search Engine Optimization companies make use of approved
and, sometimes, dubious, techniques to coerce better page rankings and,
thereby, superior public exposure.
With this much
influence and with so much at stake, challenges are inevitable. A lawsuit
has been filed in U.S. District Court in San Jose, California, by
Kinderstart.com, which seeks to prove that Google has become an
“essential facility” to business, and that its arbitrary manner of
banning sites from its search results represents anticompetitive behavior.
important, when it comes to the dissemination of news, if any aggregator
– be it Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc. – is creating arbitrary rules to
determine what will be accessible on its pages, the potential for bias in
what gets reported rears its ugly little head.
In the case of the
aforementioned conservative e-zines – as well as the inaccessibility of
the May 19 NewsBusters article on this subject at Google News –
it appears that a human element is involved in making such decisions that
is overruling an intentionally and necessarily impartial algorithm.
Internet News Service Fair and Balanced?
Few people with an
above room temperature intelligence quotient question the existence of
bias in the media, although there is great debate about the slant.
However, it is conceivable that few folks have considered the possibility
of Internet news aggregators possessing such partiality, and, maybe
more important, the ramifications.
In the case of
Google, there is some evidence that its employees lean strongly to the
left. According to a February 2005 USA Today article
on the subject:
“As it claws
for greater power, the Democratic Party has found a newly rich ally in
one of the fastest-growing U.S. companies: Google.”
The article stated
that of the over $200,000 Google employees gave to federal candidates in
2004, “98% went to Democrats, the biggest share among top tech
donors.” And, with a largely successful public stock offering making
“scores of millionaires among [Google’s] 3,000 workers,”
have a potentially potent source of cash as they fight to retake the
White House and Congress.”
telling, a May 15 “Washington Prowler” piece
at The American Spectator disclosed a link between Google and the
ultra-left wing MoveOn.org:
Google has become
the single largest private corporate underwriter of MoveOn. According to
sources in the Democrat National Committee, MoveOn has received more
than $1 million from Google and its lobbyists in Washington to create
grassroots support for the Internet regulation legislation [“Net
Neutrality”]. Some of that money has gone to an online petition drive
and a letter-writing campaign, but the majority of that money is being
used to fund their activities against Republicans out in the states.
Beyond this, Google
appears intimately tied to former vice president and potential 2008
Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore. It is no secret that Gore is a
senior advisor to Google, a position that garnered him a sizable number of
shares according to Fox News political analyst Susan Estrich. On May
19’s The Big Story, Estrich discussed with host John Gibson
Gore’s connection with Google, and how the wealth generated from the
shares he owns in the Internet behemoth could give him enough money to
finance his own presidential campaign.
goes further. According to a recent Wired magazine article
about Gore, he is extremely close to Google’s CEO Eric Schmidt who
“supported Gore’s 2000 presidential campaign.” Moreover, in April
2005, Google partnered with Gore’s cable channel, Current.
Past The Graveyard
Certainly, there is
nothing new about politicians getting in bed with billionaires, and vice
versa. However, in this case, if the political leanings and proclivities
of the world’s largest online information engine – as well as likely
the number one disseminator of “new media” content – begin impacting
its policies, America may be on the precipice of an even ghastlier problem
than journalists, editors, and news producers allowing their political
dogma to interfere with the impartiality of their reports.
– and taking a cue from Kinderstart.com – this juggernaut named Google
has become an “essential facility” to news seekers. In an interview
with The Poynter Institute, Barry Parr of Jupiter Research discussed the
findings of his company’s September 2005 study into demographic
preferences for news gathering online. Mr. Parr states that portals like
Google, Yahoo, and MSN “have become the second-most-used news medium by
Moreover, to new
media providers like e-zines and web journals, referrals from Google News
can comprise 20 percent or more of their unique reads in a given day,
which is the bread and butter for determining current and future ad
With that in mind,
how much power does a company that disseminates almost half of the
country’s word search results command over the opinions of our growing
population, and what protections exist against abuses of such overreaching
How does such a
company put itself in the position of grand arbiter over what is and what
is not “hate speech,” or content otherwise objectionable?
And, doesn’t this
obvious gray area give such a company the unilateral ability to squelch
opinions it doesn’t agree with just by applying such a vague moniker to
what might be an infinitesimally small percentage of an e-zine or web
As comforting as
the mission statement of unbiased reporting driven by algorithm rather
than opinion may sound on paper, the truth is that, with all
“approved” news sources contained in a single table, team Google
retains complete editorial authority over the parents of the information
to which they give birth.
One touch of a key,
and, poof: To the Google World, that news site no longer exists!
neither do the facts and opinions contained therein.
Noel Sheppard is
a contributing writer for the Business & Media Institute, as well as
contributing editor for the Media Research Center’s NewsBusters.org.
Marc Sheppard is a business owner, software developer, and writer residing
on New York’s Long Island. They welcome your feedback to Noel
and [email protected].
Censors Conservative Content, Gives $$$ to Liberal Activists
dumps news sites that criticize radical Islam