This week, yet another story circulated among the conservative set alleging that a technology company was biased towards liberal. A video from a site called Source Fed claimed to show that Google is secretly supporting Hillary Clinton by suppressing "Hillary Clinton crimes" when autocompleting queries. However, the results that the video shows have less to do with Hillary Clinton than they do with how Google's autocomplete works.
The video's central allegation is that Google Trends shows that many people search for "hillary clinton criminal charges," but if you enter "hillary clinton cri" into Google's search box, that phrase doesn't appear. As Vox points out, however, the same holds even for people who are known mainly for committing crimes.
"Apparently, Google has a policy of not suggesting that customers do searches on people's crimes," writes Vox's Timothy B. Lee.
Why might Google be hiding suggestions for "criminal charges"? Fusion recently profiled the mugshot industry which makes millions of dollars by posting raw mugshots and arrest reports on the web. Even if the subjects are acquitted or never charged, these reports stay online and are indexed by search engines unless a removal fee is paid. By not suggesting a search that would lead to these pages, Google may be trying to reduce their impact.
Matt Cutts, the longtime public face of Google's search algorithm, strongly denied that Google is editing results to benefit Clinton:
Cutts' main contention is that most people searching for information about Clinton's legal troubles search using just her first name.
While Google's search results are compiled by an opaque algorithm, based on the billions of websites online and how people interact with them, autocomplete suggestions are a little simpler to parse. They are synthesized from billions of private searches and thus a technological peek into our societal psyche. This lack of visible authorship has led to autocomplete suggestions being mined for poetry, but it's also revealed troubling things about Google's users and forced Google to hide certain results.
As Rhea Drysdale, who does work in manipulating search results notes, "the story isn’t that Google favors Hillary Clinton, it’s that Google is a complex algorithm that presents information in many ways."
Daniel McLaughlin is a creative technologist exploring the 2016 presidential election. Before joining Fusion, Daniel worked at the Boston Globe and graduated from MIT with a BS in urban studies and planning.