Google fends off criticism directed at Holocaust-denying search results

After recent reports claimed that Google's result ranking is problematic, particularly a search regarding the Holocaust, Google faces scrutiny and criticism.

December 20, 2016 16:20
3 minute read.
Screenshot of Google search results

Screenshot of Google search results. (photo credit: GOOGLE)


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A Google spokesperson reacted on Tuesday to reports claiming that the company was endorsing racist, neo-Nazi and Holocaust-denying content websites by enabling them to rank high up in the search engine's results.

"This is a really challenging problem, and something we're thinking deeply about in terms of how we can do a better job," a spokesperson told the BBC. "The fact that hate sites may appear in search results in no way means that Google endorses these views," he added. 

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On Sunday, The Guardian reported that the Google search "did the Holocaust really happen?" returned several results denying that it did, with the top result directing users to a white supremacist site titled "Stormfront," which suggests that the genocide of six millions Jews that took place during World War Two had never occurred.

The neo-Nazi website boasts of a page called "Top 10 reasons why the holocaust didn't happen."

Fortune Magazine turned to Google for comment, asking if the company was planning to remove the website entirely. A Google spokesperson said that the company had no such intention, saying "we do not remove content from our search results, except in very limited cases."

According to the BBC, while the result ranking for that particular search has changed for US users, the "Stormfront" page denying the Holocaust still appears as the top result for UK users.


The Guardian questioned several other result rankings, such as "are women evil?" and "are Muslims bad?" It was found that if a UK user were to search in Google "are black people smart?" one of the top results they would find claims that "black people are significantly less intelligent than all other races."

The original article went on to accuse Google of disseminating "hate speech," writing that "Google, with all its money and resources, is being owned by hate sites who have hijacked its search results....this is hate speech. It's lies. It's racist propaganda."

Danny Sullivan, the editor of the news site Search Engine Land, discussed the most recent change in rankings of the Holocaust query on Google.

Sullivan believes that the change is a result of external parties' attempts to influence the order of results. "I'm horrified and disappointed by the results," he told the BBC.

He met with Google executives and engineers last week to raise the issue of questionable result ranking and noted that the company representatives were "keen to come up with a solution."

While he was understanding of the criticism, Sullivan offered another approach. He stressed the fact that Google processes five billion searches a day and added: "It's very easy to take a search here and there and demand Google change something and then the next day you find a different search and say, 'why didn't you fix that?'"

While the results appearing in some of these Google searches dispense offensive and false information, the problem does not end there.

In today's digital age, young people turn to the Internet as an immediate and exclusive source of information and tend to place their trust especially in Google and other open source search engines, forming perceptions and beliefs according to what they read online.

As the BBC notes, a report released by Ofcom (the UK communications regulator) in November found that the proportion of 12 to 15-year-olds who turn to Google for "true and accurate information about things that are going on in the world" rose to a 30 percent, compared to 17 percent in 2015.

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