- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 28, 2018

President Trump said online media giants are in “very, very, troubled territory” Tuesday, causing Google to push back against his claim that it programs search results to promote negative stories about the president.

“When users type queries into the Google Search bar, our goal is to make sure they receive the most relevant answers in a matter of seconds,” Google said in a statement. “Search is not used to set a political agenda and we don’t bias our results toward any political ideology.”

Earlier Tuesday morning, Mr. Trump accused the Google search algorithm of being “rigged” against him and conservative media and pledged to “to do something about it.”

Mr. Trump tweeted that results for “Trump News” is purposely set up to show CNN and “fake news media” to promote negative stories. He argued that Google is working to suppress conservative outlets in favor of the “National Left-Wing Media” and questioned the legality of the practice.

“They are controlling what we can and cannot see,” Mr. Trump wrote. “This is a very serious situation — will be addressed.”

Mr. Trump continued the theme at an Oval Office meeting later Tuesday, also accusing other social media platforms of censoring or otherwise discriminating against him and other conservative voices.

“I think what Google and what others are doing, if you look at what’s going on with Twitter, if you look at what’s going on with Facebook, they’d better be careful, because you can’t do that to people,” he said. “We have literally thousands and thousands of complaints coming in. Google and Twitter and Facebook, they’re really treading on very, very troubled territory. It’s not fair to large portions of the population.”

The president didn’t say what kind of actions his administration might undertake to address the purported censorship.

Director of the National Economic Council Larry Kudlow confirmed to reporters that the administration is “looking into” regulating Google, but he did not elaborate either.

According to Google’s explanation page, the algorithm takes in several factors to rank the pages that appear in the search results. The system considers the number of time the search term is used on a page, how “fresh” the content is, and how trustworthy the site is.

The president accused the major tech companies of censorship Friday as well. He said it was up to Americans to determine fake news for themselves without overarching decisions made by social media platforms.

Right-leaning PJ Media made the same claim over the weekend.

The article explained that its research showed 96 percent of the results were from “left-leaning sites,” with CNN receiving more hits than any other site. The only sites PJ Media considered right-leaning to appear in the top 100 results were Fox News and The Wall Street Journal.

Freedom Partners, a branch of the Koch network, denounced Mr. Trump’s comments and the threat of regulation.

“Regulating the results of Google or other tech companies is a reckless idea that would undermine essential elements of free speech,” said Freedom Partners spokesperson Jim Fellinger in a statement.

“Allowing the government to mandate the content that search engine providers display would set a dangerous precedent. We urge the administration to reconsider any potential action against tech companies like Google and preserve the limited regulatory environment that helped make America the tech leader it is today,” he said.

Mr. Trump’s complaints come after social media platforms face increasing backlash over mediating online discourse.

Facebook, Apple, YouTube, Spotify and Vimeo all recently scrubbed some content from controversial conspiracy theorist Alex Jones off their platforms. He is still active on Twitter, though the site suspended him for a week over a video it deemed threatening to journalists.

In July, Vox reported that Twitter “shadow banned” some prominent conservatives by hiding their account in searches and suggestions.

Twitter denied the allegations and said there was an issue with its auto-suggestion algorithm.

Dave Boyer contributed to this story.

• Gabriella Muñoz can be reached at gmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

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