Google’s bias problem is more complicated than you think


– Google has a bias problem. Or at least congress
seems to think it does. When the CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai, went before congress, the
committee was very concerned that the search engine
might somehow be biased. – It’s not possible for
an individual employee or groups of employees to
manipulate our search results. You know, we have a robust framework… – Listen to me, I think humans
can manipulate the process, it is a human process at its base. – It’s not just Google. Facebook and Twitter got a
similar line of questioning from congress earlier this year. – Facebook and other tech
companies are engaged in a pervasive pattern of
bias and political censorship. – This is actually a concern that I have, and that I try to root out of the company, is making sure that we don’t have any bias in the work that we do. – Can you give the committee a timeframe, as to when we might expect
that that would, er, receive results that are
fair to the American people? – This is something that
is a high priority for us in terms of, as we roll out algorithms, understanding that they are fair and that we are driving
impartial outcomes. – Sometimes those
complaints get really messy. When Laura Loomer was
banned from Twitter for Islamophobic tweets, she
literally chained herself to the door of their New
York office in protest. – You are not going to silence me! – Now what kind congress is asking for, sounds kind of reasonable. These platforms are really
powerful and they should try to use that power in an impartial way. But when you start trying to
stamp out bias in practice, it turns out everyone sees
bias in a different place. And everyone has a different idea of what a neutral platform looks like. It only makes sense, when
you look at the big picture. Most of the controversy around bias, has to do with Twitter and
Facebook banning accounts. So in theory it shouldn’t have
anything to do with Google. Search engines don’t host
content, they just organize other people’s stuff. But the question of how they do that, has turned out to be really controversial. So Google wants you to think
of it as this simple algorithm. And it really did start out that way. The company’s initial
breakthrough was a system called Pagerank, a machine
learning algorithm that creates a kind of reputation score for
every website on the internet based on how many other sites link to it. Combine that with basic key word matching, and you’ve got a pretty good
map for which search results are good, and which ones are garbage. But that algorithm had
a lot of weird effects, sites that formatted their
URLs in a particular way, got a boost because Google
could find the key words better. And Google wanted to
encourage web encryption too, so it gave https sites
a little boost as well. There were lots of these
tiny nudges and as Google got more powerful, those
nudges became really important. A whole discipline called
Search Engine Optimization grew up around making your site as Google friendly as possible. Pretty soon the sites that showed up first in the rankings were
the ones that were the best at following Google’s rules. Around 2008, a company got
so good at gaming Google, that it put the whole system at risk. Demand Media specialized in posts that were super optimized
for specific searches, often containing vague or
unreliable information. So if you Googled something
like how to fix a radiator, those posts would be the
first thing that came up, even if they didn’t do you much good when you actually clicked through. It was a good business,
leading to a billion dollar IPO in 2011, but then Google struck back. All those spammy results
were making the search engine worse, so developers decided
to rework the algorithm in an update they called Panda. Google started rolling out
the update in early 2011, and within a couple of years, Demand Media traffic plummeted. In some sense, this is
what bias looks like, but it’s bias toward
useful search results. Google saw companies gaming their system, and they put their fingers on the scale to push search back toward
more useful results. – You know, we are trying hard
to understand what users want and this is something
important to us to get right. – But that same idea
becomes a lot more scary when you look at news. Google search has a bad habit of surfacing conspiracy
theories or for chance mirrors when you ask it fairly
straightforward questions, particularly about breaking news. After a church shooting last year, Google’s Top News bar
pointed to false rumors that the shooting was connected to Antifa, a report that had already been debunked. After the Las Vegas shooting, it pointed to an innocent
man as the perpetrator. In each case, people were
really saying this stuff on the internet, it just wasn’t true. But we expect Google
to know the difference. – Providing users with
high-quality, accurate and trusted information is sacrosanct to us. It’s what our principles are,
and our business interests, our natural long-term incentives
are aligned with that. We want to serve users everywhere, and we need to earn
their trust in doing so. Ultimately Google has to decide
which sources are credible, but they’d rather not
talk about it publicly. Is Breitbart a reliable news source? Is InfoWars? How easy should Google
make it to find arguments against vaccinating your kids? Any decision Google makes here is going to make someone angry, because everything’s biased to someone. In this case, it was just congress’ turn to show Google they’re upset. – Dr. Robert Epstein, a
Harvard trained Psychologist, authored a study recently,
that showed Google’s bias likely swung 2.6 million
votes to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. – So it looks like you are
overly using conservative news organizations, on your news. And I’d like you to look into the overuse of conservative news organizations to put on liberal
people’s news, on Google. – We do get concerns across
both sides of the aisle, I can assure you we do
this in a neutral way. – Thanks for watching,
and I hope you liked it. If there’s anything you’d
like to see us tackle, please leave us a comment,
we’ll take a look at it. And, otherwise please like and subscribe. And take care of yourself out there. – [Woman Offscreen] That was great! – (laughs) Yeah, no, it’s great!

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