Donald Trump warns Google, Facebook and Twitter to be careful

He Says, three technology companies treading on very, very troubled territory


President Donald Trump warned Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. to “better be careful” after he accused the search engine earlier in the day of rigging results to give preference to negative news stories about him.

Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Tuesday that the three technology companies “are treading on very, very troubled territory,” as he added his voice to a growing chorus of conservatives who claim internet companies favour liberal viewpoints.

“This is a very serious situation-will be addressed!” Trump said in a tweet earlier Tuesday. The President’s comments came the morning after a Fox Business TV segment that said Google favoured liberal news outlets in search results about Trump. Trump provided no substantiation for his claim.

“Google search results for ‘Trump News’ shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake New Media. In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD,” Trump said. “Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out. Illegal.”

Trump’s re-election campaign also texted his tweets to supporters, writing as part of an end-of-month fundraising push that “The FAKE NEWS machine is completely out of control.”

The allegation, dismissed by online search experts, follows the president’s 24 August claim that social media “giants” are “silencing millions of people.”

Such accusations — along with assertions that the news media and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia meddling probe are biased against him — have been a chief Trump talking point meant to appeal to the president’s base.

Google issued a statement saying its searches are designed to give users relevant answers. “Search is not used to set a political agenda and we don’t bias our results toward any political ideology,” the statement said.

“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.”

Yonatan Zunger, an engineer who worked at Google for almost a decade, went further. “Users can verify that his claim is specious by simply reading a wide range of news sources themselves,” he said. “The ‘bias’ is that the news is all bad for him, for which he has only himself to blame.”

Google’s news search software doesn’t work the way the president says it does, according to Mark Irvine, senior data scientist at WordStream, a company that helps firms get websites and other online content to show up higher in search results.

The Google News system gives weight to how many times a story has been linked to, as well as to how prominently the terms people are searching for show up in the stories, Irvine said. “The Google search algorithm is a fairly agnostic and apathetic algorithm towards what people’s political feelings are,” he said.

“Their job is essentially to model the world as it is,” said Pete Meyers, a marketing scientist at Moz, which builds tools to help companies improve how they show up in search results. “If enough people are linking to a site and talking about a site, they’re going to show that site.”

Trump’s concern is that search results about him appear negative, but that’s because the majority of stories about him are negative, Meyers said. “He woke up and watched his particular flavour and what Google had didn’t match that.”

Complaints that social-media services censor conservatives have increased as companies such as Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. try to curb the reach of conspiracy theorists, disinformation campaigns, foreign political meddling and abusive posters.

Google News rankings have sometimes highlighted unconfirmed and erroneous reports in the early minutes of tragedies when there’s little information to fill its search results.

After the 1 October 2017, Las Vegas shooting, for instance, several accounts seemed to coordinate an effort to smear a man misidentified as the shooter with false claims about his political ties.

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