The truth about the Hillary Clinton Google conspiracy theory

Hillary Clinton on glass ceilings in 2008 and 2016
Hillary Clinton on glass ceilings in 2008 and 2016

Despite what you might have seen online, Google is not manipulating its search results to favor Hillary Clinton.

That conspiracy theory appeared in a viral video Thursday, in which the pop culture site SourceFed claims to show evidence that Google is deliberately altering its results to hide unsavory facts about Clinton.

"SourceFed has discovered that Google has been actively altering search recommendations in favor of Hillary Clinton's campaign," said SourceFed host Matt Lieberman on the video. "We know for a fact."

But that's not a fact -- it's utter nonsense. SourceFed's video stems from a deep misunderstanding about how Google works.

The theory

SourceFed's "evidence" of Google's manipulation: Type "Hillary Clinton cri" into a Google search, you get the following results.

"Hillary Clinton crime reform"
"HIllary Clinton crisis"
"Hillary Clinton Crime Bill 1994"

google hillary clinton

What?! No "Hillary Clinton criminal charges?"

Indeed, on Bing and Yahoo, typing "Hillary Clinton cri" autofills with terms like "criminal charges," "crimes," "criminal record" "cries in New Hampshire" and "criticism."

The report's supposed smoking gun is that a Google Trends search reveals that far more people are searching Google for "Hillary Clinton crimes" than "Hillary Clinton crime reform."

So why would Google put "Hillary Clinton crime reform" as its top result? SourceFed's Lieberman claims, "Google is burying potential searches for terms that could have hurt Hillary Clinton."

Google similarly doesn't show "Hillary Clinton indictment" as a result when you type "Hillary Clinton ind."


The truth

It sounds convincing. But SourceFed's reporting is riddled with holes.

Rhea Drysdale, CEO of search engine optimization company Outspoken Media, said in a Medium post Friday that SourceFed picked and chose misleading examples that appeared to prove its point.

The examples that SourceFed chose are factually incorrect. Hillary Clinton has not been charged with a crime. She has not been indicted. Google (GOOGL) knows this, and its algorithm actually filters out inaccurate information in autocomplete.

"Our autocomplete algorithm will not show a predicted query that is offensive or disparaging when displayed in conjunction with a person's name," a Google spokeswoman said. "Google autocomplete does not favor any candidate or cause. Claims to the contrary simply misunderstand how autocomplete works."

To counter SourceFed's claim, Drysdale showed similar results for Donald Trump, in which "Donald Trump lawsuits" did not show up in autocomplete results when entering "Donald Trump la" into Google. But "Donald Trump laughing" did, despite the fact that far more people are searching about the presumptive Republican nominee's legal battles.

Discovery Communications, which owns SourceFed, did not respond to a request for comment.

Google is really smart

By typing in just "Hillary Clinton," Google presents plenty of autocomplete suggestions with negative connotations, including "email" and "Benghazi."

Searches for those two terms are way more popular than either of the cherry-picked searches that SourceFed included in its video. Google understands that "Hillary Clinton email" and "Hillary Clinton Benghazi" are synonymous with potential criminal charges or indictments, Drysdale said.

"Google understands humans better than we understand ourselves," Drysdale told CNNMoney.

To say that Google is trying to put Clinton in a favorable light by hiding negative search results just isn't true.

Bing and Yahoo, by contrast, don't have as complex an algorithm as Google. They interpret search queries far more literally than Google does, which is why they present results that appear to be disparaging to Clinton.

SourceFed claims to have found a smoking gun, but its evidence just doesn't hold up.

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