Society

Holocaust Denial Sites Demoted In Google Search Results

| by Nik Bonopartis

People who enter the search string "Did the Holocaust happen?" will no longer get Holocaust-denial sites as the first results in Google search after the company reportedly responded to pressure to remove the links.

Previously, the search string returned a white nationalist site as the first result, angering many after the story went viral.

The offending link and first result was a page titled "Top 10 reasons why the holocaust didn't happen," hosted by Stormfront.org, a white nationalist and neo-Nazi site founded by a former member of the Ku Klux Klan.

Initially, the search giant said it wouldn't interfere with the results, but Google eventually relented when the story gained steam and hundreds of media sites ran stories about the offending search result. Sites ranging from Mediaite and The Guardian, to Mic and Fortune all ran variations of the story, and those stories now dominate the search results for the original search string.

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But contrary to reports that say the Stormfront links are gone, its campaign seems to have only pushed the offending links further down in the search results.

Several stories claim search results for "Did the Holocaust happen?" have been purged of Holocaust denial sites. But searches on Dec. 26 revealed the Stormfront link on the second page of search results, while other Holocaust denial sites were pushed further down the results list.

Google results change based on the location of the user running the search as well as other factors, so the results may not be the same for everyone.

Still, most users should see a link to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum at or near the top of results. A Dec. 26 search turned up two prominent links from that site, titled "Why Did the Holocaust Happen?" and "Common Questions about the Holocaust."

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However, experts disagree over whether Google actually changed its algorithm. Barry Schwartz, the founder of Search Engine Roundtable, suggested on his blog that the results were changed by the avalanche of stories and traffic to those stories, not any intentional move by Google.

“There is no evidence of any change to the algorithm," Schwartz wrote. "We track these things very carefully and there’s nothing to suggest they have done anything.”

In the meantime, media columnists and social media users have pointed out it's not just the Holocaust search that returns odd or outright racist results.

A search with the phrase "Are black people smart?" returned an "infobox" from the search engine.

"Black people are, by all measures, inherently less intelligent than other races," the text read. It appears to have since been taken down.

Likewise, the phrase "Are white people inbred?" returned another infobox from Google.

"Caucasians are not fully or normally developed human beings," the infobox read, "but are only the inbred mutant albinos of their genetic masters -- Black Africans ... inbreeding has caused the gene pool of white people to become severely depleted, and whites have far less genetic diversity than their black genetic masters." That box also appears to have been removed from the search results.

Bing, Microsoft's search competitor, also returns the same result for the above search phrase. SearchEngineLand's Danny Sullivan wrote that the results confirm that the problem isn't any particular ideology or group manipulating search results. Rather, the problem is inherent to search technology itself, and the nature of the internet, where anyone can contribute content.

The challenge for search operators is separating the truth from propaganda. Fixing one search string might be trivial, but implementing a fix that would improve results for hundreds or thousands of controversial search queries is a different matter.

"Instead, what explains both of the examples above is what I’ve been saying: search is hard," Sullivan wrote. "That’s not as clickbaity as dashing out a fast article that Google (and solely Google) has horrible results for whatever will be the hot topic of the day. But that’s the situation as I see it, as a 20-year veteran of covering the search space."

Sources: Digital Trends, SearchEngineLand, Carole Cadwalladr/Twitter, Fortune / Photo credit: Franklin D. Roosevelt Library/Wikimedia Commons

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