Google Autocomplete Pushed Civil War narrative, Covid Disinfo, and Global Warming Denial

Despite few people actually searching for that

Here’s what Google looked like for months at the end of 2020 and on January 6th before the invasion of the capitol: (all searches were done in incognito from NYC)

Autocomplete results on January 6th
  • 35 times more than “civil war is here
  • 52 times more than “civil war is starting
  • 113 times more than “civil war is inevitable
  • 175 times more than “civil war is upon us
Google Trends Searches in the month before the Capitol insurrection
Autocomplete results on election day
After clicking one results “civil war is close” and doing a search again, results became worse

Why is Google promoting search terms that are less searched?

We don’t even know which AI is used for Google autocomplete, neither what it tries to optimize for. It might be that Google tries to reduce the number of keystrokes typed. Fear mongering results, or on the other side, “feel good results” (see covid results lower) could lead people to click faster, leading to some results being favored.

Covid-19 disinfo

There was an inflection in the Covid-19 contamination curve at the end of October. Many people said that it was just due to more testing. At that period, the US election was also looming. At that crucial moment, what was Google promoting with its autocomplete?

Google Autocomplete Disasters are Not New

Many have already happened. For instance, Anna Jobin has been talking about autocomplete of sexist stereotypes since 2013 in this post, and pointed out about the problem of no responsibility.

In this post, I want to show that autocomplete is not only amplifying stereotypes, but actually promoting disinformation that is searched less than actual information.

Google’s Autocomplete is not designed to be a “Mirror of Society”

The Google autocomplete is serving the commercial interests of Google, Inc. Like YouTube’s recommendations and Facebook’s group recommendations, Google doesn’t try to give users what they really want or care about. It tries to maximize a set of metrics, that are increasing Google’s profit or its market share. They choose how they configure their AI.

This AI Choices Have Massive Impact

Google serves 3.5 billions queries every day. There are around 10 autocomplete results per query. So there are tens of billions of autocomplete results that are seen every day. They impact society, we just don’t know in which direction.

Transparency Works

Anna Jobin managed to change sexist Google autocompletes by talking about them.

Google Autocomplete is seen on 3.5 billion searches daily. It’s “not working correctly” according to … itself

AlgoTransparency.org / Ex-Googler / AI for Good

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