Back in early May, Google had taken the remarkable step of deranking our entire website, placing our many thousands of content pages near the absolute bottom of its search results, where almost no one would ever see them. If a user included the keyword “unz” in a search string, our pages would still come up, but otherwise they would be almost totally invisible. So people specifically looking for our website could still find it, but almost no one else.
Google holds a monopoly over worldwide search results, having a total market share greater than 90% and therefore functioning as a global gatekeeper to the Internet, so this harsh action had serious consequences. Our regular daily traffic dropped by 15% or more, especially reducing the inflow of casual new visitors who might discover our alternative media webzine in an unrelated search. The national wave of urban turmoil that broke out at the end of that same month soon overwhelmed this decline and lifted our traffic to new heights. But the severe loss of new readers remained. So although our daily pageviews have set new records, the number of daily visitors to our website has remained substantially diminished.
Then a couple of weeks ago, various journalists reported an even more severe manipulation of Google’s search system, with dozens of top Republican-leaning websites, including Breitbart and Drudge, suddenly discovering that all their content had entirely disappeared from Google although liberal-leaning publications remained unaffected. This search engine “glitch” ended within a day and the conservative websites reappeared, but there was widespread speculation that Google had added a “kill switch” that could cleanse the Internet of all right-wing content at a moment’s notice, and someone had inadvertently tested this powerful new media weapon in public, thereby revealing its existence.
A presidential election is less than three months away, and conservatives have long complained that the Silicon Valley tech giants are biased against them. So the very real possibility that Google was road-testing the ability to “disappear” all their publications at some crucial moment would surely raise concerns even among the most level-headed individuals.
Therefore, I naturally assumed that this crucial issue of biased search results would become a central point of questioning during last week’s Congressional testimony of Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Surely, the Republican members of the committee would ask him why all the websites in their ideological camp had suddenly disappeared from Google, and whether this suggested deliberate plans by the Monopolist of Mountain View to slant its search results against their side of the aisle. Google displays the results of six billion searches each day, so this would probably have a political impact millions of times greater than the alleged “RussiaGate manipulation” that had so dominated our national headlines for many months.
However, I was sorely mistaken. Neither the national newspapers nor other publications reported any such line of questioning. This suggested that the Republican members of the committee were either reluctant to antagonize their powerful witness, or more likely, were just too ignorant of the Internet to realize that if Google suddenly “disappeared” all their media outlets, many of their voters and their own seats in Congress would soon follow. So I was forced to listen to the entire three and a half hour hearing on YouTube, then afterward hunted around in vain for a complete transcript.
Although the Republicans made little attempt to pin down Google’s chief, some of Pichai’s responses certainly seemed to suggest that Google was committed to providing unbiased search results, especially during his questioning by Rep. Steve King (IA). He assured his listeners that Google never “put its thumb on the scale” of search results, nor allowed “manual intervention” to corrupt its objective algorithms. Any casual listener would surely assume that Google search results were solely ranked based upon the number and quality of links and sources rather than modified for reasons of ideological bias or political expediency. Yet it is quite easy to demonstrate the contrary. I recounted last year:
As the winner of the Pulitzer Prize and two George Polk awards, the late Sydney Schanberg was widely regarded as one of the greatest American war correspondents of the twentieth century. His exploits during our ill-fated Indo-Chinese War had become the basis of the Oscar-winning film The Killing Fields, which probably established him as the most famous journalist in America after Woodward and Bernstein of Watergate fame, and he had also served as a top editor at The New York Times. A decade ago, he published his greatest expose, providing a mountain of evidence that America had deliberately left behind hundreds of POWs in Vietnam and he fingered then-presidential candidate John McCain as the central figure in the later official cover-up of that monstrous betrayal. The Arizona senator had traded on his national reputation as our best-known former POW to bury the story of those abandoned prisoners, permitting America’s political establishment to escape serious embarrassment. As a result, Sen. McCain earned the lush rewards of our generous ruling elites, much like his own father Admiral John S. McCain, Sr., who had led the cover-up of the deliberate 1967 Israeli attack on the U.S.S. Liberty, which killed or wounded over 200 American servicemen.
As publisher of The American Conservative, I ran Schanberg’s remarkable piece as a cover story, and across several websites over the years it has surely been read many hundreds of thousands of times, including a huge spike around the time of McCain’s death. I therefore find it rather difficult to believe that the many journalists investigating McCain’s background might have remained unaware of this material. Yet no hints of these facts were provided in any of the articles appearing in any remotely prominent media outlets as can be seen by searching for web pages containing “McCain and Schanberg” dated around the time of the Senator’s passing.