Just a Glitch? Google Hides Conservative & Alt-Media Websites from Search Results for Hours

Google excluded major conservative and alt-media outlets from its search results for hours, hiding hits for sites like Breitbart and RedState even in searches for the outlets’ names – only to mysteriously revert to normal later.

Conservative sites were in a panic Tuesday morning, reporting they seemed to have been blacklisted from Google. Articles and pages published by PJ Media, Daily Caller, The Blaze, and many other sites were absent even from searches for the publication name, replaced by links to Wikipedia and other sites talking about the outlet in question – usually negatively.

Just noticed Google has removed several conservative websites from search results (at least on my end, in the UK). RedState, Breitbart, Daily Caller, Human Events, and more – all like this for pages of results pic.twitter.com/v2PHFgZ3zY

— Charlie Nash (@CharlieNash) July 21, 2020

I can no longer find @Breitbart or @TheNatPulse on Google, either in news results or regular search. Where did they go? pic.twitter.com/d0O0TF2eHM

— August Takala (@AugustTakala) July 21, 2020

While most of the affected sites hailed from the right side of the political spectrum, leftist sites whose views don’t conform to prevailing orthodoxy also appeared to fall victim to the purge. Mediaite’s Charlie Nash posted a screenshot of a Google search for “MintPress News” that included no hits from the left-leaning antiwar outlet, while another commenter noted Occupy Democrats was MIA.

Some of them have small website links in the Wikipedia info bubble that displays on the right-hand side (not all of them), but this is how other outlets look in comparison pic.twitter.com/CpdQpH75ue

— Charlie Nash (@CharlieNash) July 21, 2020

Google was quick with the damage control, announcing it was “investigating this and any potentially related issues.” The search giant described the problem as if it was merely an issue with one specific search command rather than a politically-specific problem that somehow left establishment-friendly media alone.

We are aware of an issue with the site: command that may fail to show some or any indexed pages from a website. We are investigating this and any potentially related issues.

— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) July 21, 2020

After a few hours, searches were working normally again. However, those affected had their own suspicions about why this extremely specific search plague might have hit “wrongthink” websites all at once.

One might assume it’s more a “test run” of how to more effectively interfere in the 2020 U.S. election than anything else. https://t.co/BHhGhi68ol

— Mollie (@MZHemingway) July 21, 2020

Google has millions of websites blacklisted….I pray their full blacklist gets leaked https://t.co/vAeo1eNWFE

— Back to NORMAL Yvonne (GDT) 🇺🇸 🐻 (@_YvonneBurton) July 21, 2020

Perhaps realizing that simply returning the news sites to their rightful place in search results wouldn’t silence critics, Google later released a statement acknowledging “an issue that impacted some navigational and site: operator searches.” However, they denied any “particular sites or political ideologies” were targeted.

Today’s issue affected sites representing a range of content and different viewpoints. Our ranking systems don’t index, rank or classify content based on political lean, as we’ve explained in our How Search Works site: https://t.co/XBPf3WFUKS pic.twitter.com/Rb1AHXXT00

— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) July 21, 2020

Project Veritas, one of the sites affected by the search blackout, interviewed a Google whistleblower last year who revealed the company has multiple “blacklists” for both YouTube and regular web search, one of which includes many of the sites that went missing on Tuesday.

Additionally, internal Google communications from 2016 show employees considered burying or blocking search results from conservative outlets in the aftermath of President Donald Trump’s electoral victory, specifically naming the Daily Caller and Breitbart – both of which were affected by the temporary blackout. While it eventually opted to run “fact-checks” next to conservative articles instead, that program was short-lived, having been quietly discontinued after its many shortcomings were exposed by the right-leaning outlets it invariably targeted. The “fact-checks” sometimes critiqued statements the original articles had not even made, and occasionally ran alongside unrelated articles.

As November’s elections loom, Google and other tech firms are likely scrambling to prevent a rerun of 2016. With 88 percent of US search engine market share, Google’s results will figure heavily in the information American voters can access in the next few months.