A recent tweet by Donald Trump stated that “Google search results for ‘Trump News’ shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake News Media…” which proves that Google has “rigged search.”
Google search results for “Trump News” shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake News Media. In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD. Fake CNN is prominent. Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out. Illegal? 96% of….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 28, 2018
Here’s the full tweet:
“Google search results for “Trump News” shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake News Media. In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD. Fake CNN is prominent. Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out. Illegal? 96% of results on “Trump News” are from National Left-Wing Media, very dangerous. Google & others are suppressing voices of Conservatives and hiding information and news that is good. They are controlling what we can & cannot see. This is a very serious situation-will be addressed!”
So the question is, is “rigging” even possible? And the next questions are, so, how easy is it to do? and finally, should something be done about it?
First, let’s talk about searching in general. I got into search about 15 years ago when I co-founded Lucidworks, the sponsoring company behind the world’s most popular open source search engine, Apache Solr.
Without the likes of Google, and on the retail side, Amazon, there’s no doubt the internet would not be anywhere near what it is today. We can find anything in just minutes. At the same time, people’s expectations of search are increasing. We want the results we want—which can change if we are at home in North Carolina, or in our corporate offices in San Francisco. Or it can change by time of day, or our work life to our home life.
What we really want are results that are relevant to our life. Which gets us to “rigging.”
Weighting Search to Provide Richer Experiences
As a search professional—I work to tune search to learn from our users so that we can get the perfect pieces of content in front of them. We do so by looking at various “signals” such as geo spatial data, time of day, and past search history.
For example, if you go to Google and search on green furniture, there are about 2 billion results. But if the engine knows you are into sustainable, it should push furniture that is eco-friendly to the top. And if the engine sees that you are in downtown San Francisco, it should map out stores in that area.
I guess to some degree some might call this “rigging,” although we call it “tuning” or “weighting.” The idea though, is that the machine aggregates knowledge from where the preponderance of people clicked for credible information on a given subject. It then ties in your behavior.
This weighting is what makes your search experience better.
How Easy Is It to Weight Search?
Is weighting easy to do? At the simplest level, of course it is. It’s just software and most search engines support editorial rules. At a practical level, it’s often a waste of time, not to mention a slippery slope that turns off users.
At the more complex level, companies like Google and mine make it seem easy—because this is what we concentrate on all day long.
We spend a lot of time analyzing and creating mathematical algorithms that help us get better in predicting user intent.
We are continuously testing and adding in new signals.
We learn when you give up on searching, or if you have to modify your search query, because you didn’t get the results you wanted.
But Mr. Trump’s dissatisfaction shows that just because something is popular does not mean it will be perfect for everyone. It also shows the fickle nature of the internet in a nutshell: being popular today doesn’t guarantee you will be popular tomorrow, whether you’re a politician or a tiny company just fighting to be heard.