In a “momentous shift” for Google, the Big Tech giant will reportedly suppress certain search results that are part of a “slander industry,” in reaction to a report by The New York Times, seeking to break the “vicious cycle” of online slander.
“For many years, the vicious cycle has spun,” wrote Kashmir Hill and Daisuke Wakabayashi of The New York Times. “Websites solicit lurid, unverified complaints about supposed cheaters, sexual predators, deadbeats and scammers. People slander their enemies. The anonymous posts appear high in Google results for the names of victims. Then the websites charge the victims thousands of dollars to take the posts down.”
“This circle of slander has been lucrative for the websites and associated middlemen — and devastating for victims,” they claimed. “Now Google is trying to break the loop.”
Google is now planning to amend its search algorithm so that websites “which operate under domains like BadGirlReport.date and PredatorsAlert.us” will be hidden from results when someone searches for a reported victim of “online slander.”
In addition, Google has introduced the notion of “known victims.”
“When people report to the company that they have been attacked on sites that charge to remove posts,” the Times explained. “Google will automatically suppress similar content when their names are searched for. ‘Known victims’ also includes people whose nude photos have been published online without their consent, allowing them to request suppression of explicit results for their names.”
“I doubt it will be a perfect solution, certainly not right off the bat. But I think it really should have a significant and positive impact,” said David Graff, Google’s vice president for global policy and trust and safety. “We can’t police the web, but we can be responsible citizens.”
This move represents a significant change in Google’s historical “hands-off” approach to their search algorithm.
According to the report, University of Virginia professor Danielle Citron pressured Google a decade ago to “block so-called revenge porn from coming up in a search of someone’s name.” Initially, Google resisted.
According to Citron, the Big Tech giant’s philosophy was: “We never touch search, no way, nohow. If we start touching search results, it’s a one-way ratchet to a curated internet and we’re no longer neutral.”
As the Times report noted, Google’s “hands-off” attitude was demonstrated in 2004, when people questioned why anti-Semitic websites were listed when users searched for the term, “Jew.”
“If you recently used Google to search for the word ‘Jew,’ you may have seen results that were very disturbing. We assure you that the views expressed by the sites in your results are not in any way endorsed by Google. We’d like to explain why you’re seeing these results when you conduct this search,” Google wrote in a since-deleted statement. “A site’s ranking in Google’s search results is automatically determined by computer algorithms using thousands of factors to calculate a page’s relevance to a given query. Sometimes subtleties of language cause anomalies to appear that cannot be predicted. A search for ‘Jew’ brings up one such unexpected result.”
Google then explained that “the word ‘Jew’ is often used in an anti-Semitic context,” and that “Someone searching for information on Jewish people would be more likely to enter terms like ‘Judaism,’ ‘Jewish people,’ or ‘Jews’ than the single word ‘Jew.’”
“Our search results are generated completely objectively and are independent of the beliefs and preferences of those who work at Google. Some people concerned about this issue have created online petitions to encourage us to remove particular links or otherwise adjust search results. Because of our objective and automated ranking system, Google cannot be influenced by these petitions. The only sites we omit are those we are legally compelled to remove or those maliciously attempting to manipulate our results,” the statement concluded.
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