President Donald Trump threatened Google on Tuesday, pushing an unfounded claim that the tech giant had “rigged” the search results for “Trump News.” Trump’s claim appears to have originated from a single blog post on a conservative news site, which snowballed its way to Fox Business and into the White House.
“Google search results for ‘Trump News’ shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake New Media,” Trump tweeted early Tuesday morning. “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 results on ‘Trump News’ are from National Left-Wing Media, very dangerous.”
A cursory search by The Daily Beast shortly after Trump tweeted returned a Fox News article as the second search result. Meanwhile, Google denied Trump’s claim.
“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,” Google said in a statement to CNN. “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.”
The Trump administration implied that they might attempt to take legal action against Google.
“We’re taking a look at it,” Trump economic advisor Larry Kudlow said Tuesday, when a journalist asked if the administration wanted to regulate Google searches. “We’ll let you know.”
Although Trump did not cite any evidence for his claim, he appeared to reference a Saturday article on the conservative news site PJ Media, which pushed the same “96%” statistic to claim Google had a “blatant prioritization of left-leaning and anti-Trump media outlets.”
The PJ Media author arrived at the claim by Googling “Trump” and comparing the results against a chart that purported to map each news organization’s place on the political spectrum, without any metrics or criteria explaining those outlets’ place on the chart. The chart already included Google as a news site (which it ranked as left-of-center), a detail PJ Media appeared to overlook. The chart also included frequently false conspiracy sites like InfoWars and WorldNetDaily as right-leaning sites, which it compared to more left-leaning publications like Variety and the Los Angeles Times.
The PJ Media story caught the eye of Fox Business pundit Lou Dobbs, who tweeted it at Trump on Sunday, and on Monday night ran a Fox Business segment on the story. The segment featured an interview with Diamond and Silk, the Trump promoters who falsely claimed that Facebook “censored” them without attempting to contact them. (Emails from Facebook reveal that the social media company made multiple attempts to reach the duo.)
Dobbs, Diamond, and Silk all have an ear with the president, who puts Dobbs on speakerphone for Oval Office meetings and repeatedly references Diamond and Silk segments in the White House, The Daily Beast previously reported.
During the Monday night Fox Business segment, Diamond and Silk likened the Google search results to lynching, telling Dobbs that “instead of using a noose, what they’re doing is using algorithms and a form of censorship to choke people’s platforms out, and to keep people from doing a search when they want to search for our beautiful president.”
Trump’s tweet appeared to reference the story, but implied a foggy understanding of how web searches work. Someone trying to find news about Trump by searching “Trump News” would be better served just Googling “Trump” or performing the search under Google’s News tab.
Conservatives have spent the past two years decrying what they claim is a concerted censorship campaign by Silicon Valley. Actual studies have revealed that social media companies like Facebook either show no evidence of political bias against conservatives, or that conservatives enjoy a larger platform than liberals on Facebook. But less rigorous surveys, like one published this weekend on a conservative news site, have found their way to Trump’s television via Fox News, leading Trump to apparently threaten action against Google.
In a Tuesday afternoon press conference, Trump doubled down on his claims.
"I think 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," he said. "I think what Google and what others are doing, if you look at what's going on at Twitter, what's going on in Facebook, they'd better be careful because you can't do that to people. You can't do it. We have tremendous—we have literally thousands and thousands of complaints coming in and you just can't do that. So I think 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."