If you Google “did the Holocaust happen” the first result is a link from Stormfront.org, a neo-Nazi and white supremacist forum that’s widely regarded as the internet’s “first major hate site.”
That’s troubling for sure, but Google’s response was far more concerning. Google told Fortune that the company is “saddened to see that hate organizations still exist,” but it does “not remove content from [its] search results, except in very limited cases such as illegal content, malware and violations of our webmaster guidelines.” The Google spokesperson made sure to add, “The fact that hate sites appear in Search results does not mean that Google endorses these views.”
Titled “Top 10 reasons why the holocaust didn’t happen,” the first post on the forum asks other Stormfront members to help the original poster come up with reasons the Holocaust did not happen so he can “give a good argument.” People on the message board claim things like “no tons of human remains were ever found” and “Auswitcz [sic] was a place where synthentic rubber was being produced and U.S. intelligence was focused on Auswitcz for that reason. No U.S. intelligence reports ever gave any indication of gassing or mass extermination.” For the record, this is all bullshit. The Holocaust happened.
In an era where misinformation runs rampant online, Google’s refusal to alter these search results is distressing, though not unexpected. (Facebook has been experiencing similar issues!) In Steven Levy’s history of Google, In the Plex, he recounts when Sergey Brin’s struggle with a similar issue in 2004. He called altering the results “bad technology practice.” But what happens when an uneducated person tries to look up facts and Google sucks them into an online forum spouting conspiracy theories?
In a 2008 interview with Yair Lapid, the Israeli politician asked Brin about an anti-semitic website called “Jew Watch” which used to pop up when you googled “Jew.”
“An important part of our values as a company is that we don’t edit the search results,” Brin said. “What our algorithms produce, whether we like it or not, are the search results. I think people want to know we have unbiased search results.”
Google is a vehicle through which people get information, but does the company have any responsibility to promote the correct information? While Google might not want to mess with the results for “did the Holocaust happen” or “Jew,” a FTC investigation published in 2015 by the Wall Street Journal revealed that Google “manipulated search results to favor its own services over rivals’, even when they weren’t most relevant for users.”
While the authors of the FTC report did not recommend taking legal action at the time, Google might soon again find itself in hot water. In May of this year, Politico reported the FTC might be reopening its antitrust investigation because of concerns about “Google’s dealings over Android.”
Since Google seems cool with altering its search results to benefit the company, surely it can also demote the ranking of a hateful website that promotes lies.