Earlier this month, The Guardian broke the news that Google was being subverted to promote neo-Nazi propaganda. Check it out:
Google has since “fixed” its search function, and Stormfront’s Holocaust-denial site has been expunged from the first three pages of results.
Who actually searches for “Did the holocaust happen”? People who are legitimately confused as to whether the Holocaust happened, or social justice warriors in search of moral outrage?
Here’s the Google search trend for “Did the holocaust happen”:
For over five years, virtually no one was confused about whether or not the Holocaust happened. Most Americans with a middle-school education probably didn’t even realize this was up for debate until The Guardian brought it to our collective attention.
Even so, “Did the holocaust happen” is a query that gets entered about 1600 times a month, or roughly 50 times a day – out of Google’s 5.5 billion search queries per day. The number is dwarfed by the 15,000 daily queries for “holocaust”, which is a far more plausible search query if you genuinely don’t know anything about the Holocaust.
Google’s search rank algorithm (RankBrain) is an industry secret, but it’s known to weight click-through rate: Search results that get clicked on will appear higher in subsequent results. As a result, infrequent queries are easy to game because all it takes is a small team of distributed trolls to push a desired result to the top, with few honest queries to offset the mess.
The same thing happened when the internet blew a gasket over allegations that Google’s autocomplete suggested that Jews might be evil. Who the crap types that into a search engine? The few people obtuse enough to seek answers to such a query are probably asking their buddies on 4chan, not Google.
The popularity of the “Are jews evil” search also coincides with the corresponding Guardian article, and the people most curious about this topic reside in New York, Seattle, and San Francisco. I blame the public schools.
Anyway, it looks like Google isn’t fixing anything; all it’s doing is adding exceptions for the specific searches that people bitch about. Even though results for “Did the holocaust happen” have been cleansed of Holocaust-denial sites, variations have not.
If I search for “Did the holocaust really happen,” cuz, you know, I want to be *really* sure, then the second result is a youtube video that purportedly debunks the Holocaust as a hoax. And if I search for “Did the holocaust ever happen,” then Stormfront comes back up again.
Google can’t optimize its search algorithm to account for the 0.000001% of problematic queries that people might type in. There are infinite combinations of words that will inevitably offend somebody somewhere. In this case, Google put forth the minimum possible effort to get people to shut up and go away, and even that was probably too generous.