Leroy N. Soetoro
2018-06-05 20:02:31 UTC
In the midst of the fake news hysteria last year, Google launched a
project to help curate reliable information for its readers by identifying
articles and sites that need fact-checking. And this may come as a
surprise to some of you, but it looks like the tech giants truth project
is imbued with a tiny bit of ideological and political bias.
Eric Lieberman at The Daily Caller recently found that the fact checks
displayed in Googles search engine results are targeted almost
exclusively at conservative publications. You can test it out yourself.
Now, you may believe that conservatives are hopeless liars in need of
relentless correcting, so Ill concede the point for arguments sake. Even
then, youd have to admit its a small miracle that, according to Googles
search engine, not a single prominent liberal or mainstream site in the
entire universe has ever uttered a dubious or questionable claim.
Luckily for us, there are methods available to analyze the veracity of
Googles project. One way, for example, is to take a reviewed claim made
against The Federalist, the site I happen to know best, and contrast it to
the coverage of other sites.
Consider the case of a woman named Eileen Wellstone. Out of many thousands
of pieces published by The Federalist over the past four years, a single
one mentions the name Eileen Wellstone. That article, detailing the sordid
history of Bill Clinton, mentions her name exactly once: Another woman,
Eileen Wellstone, claimed Clinton raped her while he was at Oxford
University in the late 1960s.
For some reason, in this reviewed claim against The Federalist, Google
sends the reader to a Snopes fact-check that argues that Clinton wasnt
expelled from Oxford over this alleged rape a point I concede sounds
completely accurate and is also an assertion that no one has ever made in
So the question is, does Google tag every article that relays accusations
of sexual misconduct or rape as unproven, or just the ones against Bill
Clinton? Or is the mention of Wellstone specifically worthy of a claim?
The Wellstone case has not only been cited in all types of publications
(and not in efforts to debunk it, either; 1,2,3,4,5, and so on) but by The
Washington Posts own fact-checker.
In a 2016 article detailing allegations against Bill Clinton that might be
brought up by then-candidate Donald Trump, WaPo notes, Eileen Wellstone
says she was assaulted by Clinton when he was a student at Oxford
University in 1969. There is virtually no difference between that
statement and the one published in The Federalist. Not that Google search
engines users would know this when they search for the influential
Or take another purported fact-check regarding climate change, which
creates the impression that theres something inaccurate about a specific
arguable claim because the larger notions about the topic happen to be
Whats most amusing about this fact-check is that Google sends people who
searched for The Federalist to an article correcting a claim made by
someone on CNN, an outlet that, somehow, even though they apparently
feature contributors who make questionable claims about science, is spared
from search-engine truth-police grilling.
Moreover, the quote featured in the reviewed claim section is not even
in The Federalist article. Googles go-to site, Climate Feedback, an
ideologically motivated site itself, argues that Observed warming since
the 1970s is consistent with climate model projections. This is at the
very least an arguable contention. Feel free to use your Google search
engine to find thousands of pieces debating the accuracy modeling over the
decades. This seems to be a normal, appropriate, and completely scientific
debate to be engaged in.
More importantly, the articles position is that the alarmist partisans
cherry-pick projections hoping to scaremonger voters into making political
decisions. That doesnt necessarily mean that climate change isnt
happening. Then again, once you begin reading through the fact-check,
youll quickly notice that its not really debunking The Federalists
assertion at all (The Federalist is once again never even mentioned in the
fact-check that allegedly debunks The Federalist); the participants are
simply claiming that models, in general, have been correct that its
getting hotter overall which does not conflict with anything the article
But if it rings true, it is true, I guess.
In theory, opinion sites will offer more speculation about what events and
policy mean. These claims are prone to be challenged, and they should be.
Thats part of our discourse. But as Lieberman points out, the Google
fact-checking itself is often unconvincing and offered by biased sources.
Take the other unproven charge against The Federalist. This one, also by
Snopes, claims to debunk an article that argues that vandals burned down a
century-old bust of Abraham Lincoln in Chicago in broader protests about
Confederate statues. Again, that wasnt what the article argued. It argued
that the vandalism a term used by an alderman in Chicago, as well was
part of a broader effort to tear down history and monuments. Since a
number of statues, including the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, had also
been vandalized right around the same time, its certainly not out of
bounds for a columnist to treat these incidents as a trend.
But if this is the standard for corrections and dissuading people from
visiting a site, what possible reason could there be for left-wing sites
that regularly make arguable or false assertions about economics, history,
science, and politics, like Vox and ThinkProgress and many others, to be
spared from this fact-checking? Its one thing for us to read publications
through filters. We do it all the time. But its another for a search
engine to manipulate perceptions about those sites and only conservative
ones before people even read them.
(Update 10/12: Googles fact-checker has removed two of the above claims
leaving the third claim, which I concede is the most speculative. Now
lets see it hold other sites to the same standard.)
David Harsanyi is a Senior Editor at The Federalist. He is the author of
the forthcoming book, First Freedom: A Ride Through America's Enduring
History with the Gun, From the Revolution to Today. Follow him on Twitter.
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