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Google’s Algorithm Manipulated


Eighteen years after Larry Page and Sergey Brin published their famous paper on Google’s search algorithm: “The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Search Engine,” the algorithm is still being modified, scrutinized, and most importantly manipulated. The Guardian found empirical evidence that Google’s autocomplete algorithm and search algorithms in general often gave preference to conservative news sources and alt-right propaganda. When the keywords “Climate Change” is placed into Google’s search bar, the primary results that showed up were autocompletes that either suggested climate change is not real or is a hoax. Similarly, when searches of abortion, homosexuality, and the events at Sandy Hook were made into the search bar, the Guardian found that Google’s autocompletes primarily suggested that the respective searches were either sins or conspiracies. The authors of the article suggest that such partisan autocompletes have quite substantial effects on users as they often click on the first results far more often than any other result and such results have the potential to influence voter beliefs during election season. This is a result of the fact that conservative news outlets and alt right individuals have found ways in order to manipulate how Google orders both their website search results and their autocomplete results in order to advance alt right beliefs. As a result of such findings by the Guardian and other sources, Google has been criticized by individuals including the United States Congress on how it can better prevent such manipulation.

This idea of search manipulation relates directly to ideas presented in class and the homework regarding PageRank. It became fairly easy to see that individuals can create artificial websites that link to many sources in order to increase one’s PageRank score. Something we did not discuss and is part of Google’s current algorithm is how often a website is updated as a consideration of the PageRank score. And since partisan websites are often constantly updated, it becomes pretty clear that manipulation can occur more often from political organizations and political websites. The ability of how organizations can manipulate network structure by adding artificial nodes and artificial edges is something that Google ought to consider when modifying its algorithm and displaying its results in the future, especially around election time.




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