You’ve seen the videos of Congress People criticizing Google and Facebook executives and you’ve seen those executives make their best attempt to answer questions on how their networks filter and share information, specifically do Facebook and Google censor people? Their answers aren’t exactly transparent, but the reason for that might not be as sinister as you think…. or maybe it is.
Why Won’t Facebook and Google Explain Themselves?
If you watched the countless videos circulating social media, it would seem to the untrained eye as though Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai are dodging questions or being difficult in their answers, but that’s only because the people asking the questions quite simply are asking for them to reveal their very competitive edge in their industry.
Facebook, but especially Google have a black box of sorts when it comes to their business model. When a Congressman or Congresswoman asks them how their software works, it’s as if they are asking a McDonald’s executive what’s in their secret sauce, or asking a Dan Cathy what’s in his friend chicken sandwich seasoning, or asking Coca-Cola how to make their secret formula.
For the sake of argument, if Facebook and Google censor people, sharing the evidence to prove it would end their businesses. Therefore, protecting that evidence isn’t necessarily a guilty act.
What Information Does Google and Facebook share?
Google and Facebook have received their share of punishment as of late for showing, or not showing specific content. Facebook has been accused of censoring people, especially conservatives. But are they? Yes and No.
Karhrman Ziegenbein, founder of Tomoko Discovery is an expert at evidence authentication of websites, social media, desktops and even darknets. He explained that these companies have a stronger business model the more you click, therefore it’s in their best interest to show you the information you will click on.
Search companies, like Google, have automated processes that promote web content that you are more likely to click on. Facebook is similar. In order to completely understand whether Facebook and Google censor people, it’s helpful to understand how they function.
What Determines Google Search
Google’s process is shrouded in secrecy, but over time marketers have started to figure out what is more likely to be promoted in search and what isn’t. Ziegenbein explains that Google’s primary objective is to get you to click something, not necessarily to show you the best results. Obviously, they need to be careful here, because if they always show you bad results you will stop using their service.
A website’s rank is determined by many factors, and those factors are constantly changing. What determines rank is how frequently a website posts unique content, the quality of that content, how often a web page is shared on social sites and user habits like their location or previous interaction with a website.
Google has built an algorithm over time to automate the search process, but in general, they reward great, frequent content websites and punish poor infrequently published content. If it seems like Google censors people, or someone claims they are being censored it’s more likely they are posting low-quality content, or not enough of it.
Obviously, some people try to game the system by generating lots of fake content, pointing to the pages they want to rank higher for. But artificially promoting content in this way, often referred to as black hat tactics result in punishment and rank demotion, often to the 2nd, 3rd pages or worse. But this manual manipulation isn’t limited to bad actors necessarily.
While it’s true Google is mostly filtered and organized automatically due to the internet’s massive size and growth they can manually override their own results. Ziegenbein, a former Microsoft employee, attests they can place certain websites at slot one or demote certain websites to lower pages at their leisure. He told me Bing does the exact same thing, as does Yahoo, which is powered by Bing. They can also remove results too.
It doesn’t mean they use this to unfairly target or censor people, but theoretically, they could. And they’re not the only one.
Does Facebook Censor Accounts?
Like Google, Facebook will automatically take down or flag certain bad actors as well, and also like Google they can’t do it manually. Ziegenbein explained that Facebook’s security measures are mostly automatic. First, it looks for verified names, phone numbers, email addresses or other info, but most accounts are flagged or taken down automatically through, what seems like user responses.
Through my own research, I’ve theorized that if enough users report a post or account at an undetermined rate, the post temporarily comes down and Facebook investigates. This would be a logical safety feature designed to prevent something terrible from getting out of hand until they can get to it, however, the problem is obvious. Unless Facebook punishes fake reports, this tool can be used to take down accounts.
What’s truly bizarre however, is what gets my Facebook’s safety features. Like pedophilia for example. In Ziegenbein’s invetigation work his team has seen many public and easily accesible Facebook pages with pedophilia content and other content. Even he has no idea why this stuff isn’t being flagged. If his investigation team can easily find this stuff in a basic search, why doesn’t Facebook?
There are a lot of questions of course, but the big question is this, do Facebook and Google censor people, and if so, how often?
Do Facebook and Google censor people or not?
The simple answer is yes. They do censor people and accounts, but there is little proof they do this for or against certain groups. As far as Google promoting liberal content over conservative, I think there is an honest reason for this.
In my own personal experience with lots of tech people, media creators and writers, they seem to screw more liberal. Basically, the ones who are more likely to rank high in Google, are liberal. Even the media tends to be liberal — which I believe they’d readily admit. I’d wager a guess, that it’s not necessarily conservatives or individuals who are being censored but are, in a way censoring themselves.
Facebook on the other hand, does seem to appear to be a platform where conservatives are punished more frequently, with their accounts being taken down at a faster rate than liberal-leaning accounts. But it looks like it ruffled enough feathres, however. After my interview aired with Karhrman Ziegenbein, Facebook finally reached out to conservative groups to get feedback on what should and should not be acceptable on their platform.
We may never know whether Facebook and Google censor people or groups in an unfair manner and due to the secret nature of how they manage their platforms we may never know. But my interview did yield one hilarious tid bit to end on a high note…
Ziegenbein also told me a funny tidbit “over 50% of the searches on Bing are actually the word ‘Google.'” He told me.
Listen to my interview with Karhrman Ziegenbein
Photo Courtesy: Tomoko Discovery