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There is currently a video by SourceFed being spread around the internet, claiming that Google appear to have censored autosuggest results in order to boost Hillary Clinton's campaign by excluding results for "crime" or "indictment".

I am extremely skeptical about this claim, firstly since it seems unlikely that Google would choose to exert political influence in this way, and secondly because it seems like the effect would be so small as to not be worthwhile.

Whilst the video shows several screenshots showing that autosuggest does not show results for "Hillary Clinton crime", etc, it seems possible that there could be other explanations – for example, this Vox article claims that Google never suggests searches for famous people's names plus terms relating to crimes.

So: is any evidence available that would prove or disprove the claim that Google manipulates its autosuggest results for political ends, as opposed to, say, simply having an automated algorithm which making potentially libellous suggestions?

  • @gnometorule, I had assumed that may be the case. A brief search turns up this Vox article which says as much, though with no references regarding actual policy. – Caesar Jun 13 '16 at 4:41
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    @Dawn, the notable claim being made here is that they're censoring the results for political ends; not that they're manipulating them at all (for example, assuming they 'manipulate' them in the way gnometorule says, that would contradict the claim). – Caesar Jun 13 '16 at 4:42
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    Article from February 2014 suggesting Google blocks unrelated autocomplete results (racist ones): searchenginewatch.com/sew/news/2328565/… – Andrew Grimm Jun 13 '16 at 5:28
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    Note that it would also censor "Donald Trump crime" and "Barack Obama crime". – wizzwizz4 Aug 21 '16 at 15:23
  • Now its "illness" vs "impeach". I don't think google itself is manipulating the results as much as trolls and paid shills on both sides are, through biased complaints and google bombing. – daniel Sep 18 '17 at 9:59
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Google's own statement to The Washington Times explains the underlying issue:

Our Autocomplete algorithm will not show a predicted query that is offensive or disparaging when displayed in conjunction with a person’s name. More generally, our autocomplete predictions are produced based on a number of factors including the popularity of search terms

and as much as their own words are worth in this context they also explicitly disavow Google Autocomplete favoring a specific candidate or cause

Google Autocomplete does not favor any candidate or cause

Secondly there is an issue where people searching for negative things about Hillary Clinton use 'Hillary X', not 'Hillary Clinton X', as noted on Twitter by Matt Cutts, a Google Employee (compare autocomplete results for 'Hillary in' and 'Hillary Clinton in').

And lastly it's possible to compare it to Donald Trump autocomplete results as is done by Rhea Drysdale

Donald Trump was accused of rape by Ivana Trump during their divorce. She has since disavowed this, but it’s a real story in the news and many have searched for it. Interestingly, a Google search for “Donald Trump ra-” does not return anything about the rape. There are many mentions of “rally,” which makes sense, but “Donald Trump rap” has less trending searches in the last year and ranks where as “Donald Trump rape” does not. Search trends are a significant factor in how Google Autocomplete works — this is the entire basis for SourceFed’s claim and yet according to their logic, Google must be favoring Donald Trump as well.

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    I would argue that the word rape is much more offensive that the word indictment, I could understand google auto-filtering out the word rape yet the original story showed how Google results filtered out indictment and suggested india and indiana; where as yahoo and bing suggested indictment when "hillary clinton ind" was typed. – John Jun 23 '16 at 4:38
  • @John out of curiosity, I tried typing in "bill clinton ra" and no rape-related suggestions came up. – Justin Lardinois Aug 17 '16 at 22:37
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    @JustinLardinois On the same note "bill clinton ind" returns nothing, "Bill Cosby ind" returns nothing, and "Casey Anthony ind" returns a whole host of indictment autocomplete – DasBeasto Feb 17 '17 at 14:49

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