22 October 2016
Google has faced allegations that its search results seem to hide unsavory facts about Hillary Clinton. Photos: Reuters
Google has faced allegations that its search results seem to hide unsavory facts about Hillary Clinton. Photos: Reuters

Why Google must keep fine-tuning its search algorithms

Google, the world’s largest search engine, has been accused of favoring Hilary Clinton in search results on its Web platform.

A YouTube video posted last week by pop culture site SourceFed suggested that Google was purposefully hiding not-so-nice search results about the Democratic presidential nominee.

The video reveals that Google omits “Hillary Clinton crimes” as an auto-completion when someone types in “Hillary Clinton cri”. Instead, it suggests positive or neutral words like “crime reform”, “crime bill”, “crisis” or “cries”.

By contrast, on Bing and Yahoo, typing “Hillary Clinton cri” autofills with terms like “criminal charges”, “crimes”, “criminal record”, “cries in New Hampshire” and “criticism”.

Also, Google suggested more negative words for Donald Trump in a similar search, throwing up phrases such as “criminal record”, “racist” or “crazy”.

Similarly, if you type in “Hillary Clinton ind”, Google won’t show “Hillary Clinton indictment”, though SourceFed suggested that this should be the case, given the popularity of the topic.

SourceFed’s findings have led to intense chatter in online forums.

There are some who believe in a conspiracy theory behind Google’s results that seem to favor Hillary.

Google has, of course, denied any wrongdoing.

It has been pointed out even if a top boss like Larry Page or Sundar Pichai wanted some slanted search results, the order has to go through several departments and would involve a number of employees.

Also, the program code for Google’s search results is accessible to many of its employees. Any obvious change will be spotted and blown open.

The second guess is that certain front-line employee has made the decision and manipulated search results and put Clinton in a favorable light by hiding negative search results.

Such speculation is not surprising, given that Silicon Valley is known to favor left liberals and democrats are more popular there.

That said, any manipulation in program code involving presidential election candidates is unlikely to remain a secret.

The third explanation, as Google put it, is that the search results are thrown up by an autocomplete algorithm.

The program will not show a predicted query that is offensive or disparaging when displayed in conjunction with a person’s name.

Hillary Clinton has not been charged with any crime and she has not been indicted. Given this, Google’s algorithm filters some words out in autocomplete.

That may be so, but what explains that fact that searches on Donald Trump show up more negative results like “criminal record” and “racist”, critics ask.

Google is a leading player in artificial intelligence, which is based on algorithm technology.

As people nowadays rely more on search engines to get information, it is clear that the internet giant must keep fine-tuning its systems and processes to ensure the best results for its users. 

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 14.

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

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