Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Google Is Adjusting Results to Compensate for Holocaust Denialist Sites

Danny Sullivan, Search Engine Land:

Several days after Google put a search ranking change into place, the first page of results for “did the holocaust happen” now appears to be entirely free of denial sites.

The algorithm change happened earlier this week. As we covered, it caused the Stormfront denial site that was ranking tops for that search to slip to the second spot, bumped behind the authoritative US Holocaust Memorial Museum site. Now Stormfront is entirely gone while USHMM remains.

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So buckle up. Google’s likely to be on a long ride of having one problematic search after another get raised. As I’ve said before, it definitely deserves criticism over this. As I’ve also said before, Cadwalladr deserves huge praise for bringing attention to these problems. But as I’ve also said before, it’s not something that I expect will get solved easily, nor is it just a “right-wing bias” problem or solely a Google problem.

There’s no way this is sustainable if Google’s engineers have to make case-by-case adjustments. Disreputable sites are pretty good at gaming search engines to raise their profile, especially since many of these publications like to reference each other. This can look to search engines as though these publications are reliable, since they’re so heavily cited — they’ve even been getting links from mainstream publications in articles fact-checking their erroneous claims.

For this to work, search engines will have to get better at distinguishing between reputable sources and crappy websites that fit the patterns of reputable sources. But, with websites in the latter category are already deliberately blurring the lines between themselves and actual journalism, I’m not sure that it will make a difference. Those who are driven more by narrative than facts will always find the narrative that defines their world view.