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Google better get used to conspiracy theories about search results this election year

The company rebuts a claim that its search suggestions are overly kind to Hillary Clinton. Donald Trump says it would be “a disgrace” if true.

Hillary Clinton Holds Campaign Event In New Jersey Jessica Kourkounis / Getty

As the king of web search, Google is prone to pernicious theories about how it is abusing its throne. The 2016 election cycle, a ripe ground for pernicious theories, will only make that worse.

Consider the latest example: A viral YouTube clip accusing Google of propping up Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Google has shot the claims down.

But Clinton's rival for the White House nonetheless seized on the allegation of search manipulation, saying that, if true, it would be a “disgrace.”

“If this is true, it is a disgrace that Google would do that,” Donald J. Trump said in a statement to Recode. "Very, very dishonest. They should let it float and allow people to see how crooked she really is.”

The fact that Google discloses little about how its powerful search engine works, coupled with rising concerns about tech’s influence in politics (see Facebook’s battle with conservatives), means the theories will persist.

The latest charge comes from SourceFed, a stray pop culture web and video site. It uploaded a short YouTube video on Thursday charging Google with deliberately altering search recommendations — through its function that automatically offers suggestions as a query is typed — to give positive treatment to Clinton.

Google vehemently denied the charges. “Google Autocomplete does not favor any candidate or cause,” a rep wrote. "Claims to the contrary simply misunderstand how Autocomplete works."

Then Matt Cutts, a veteran Googler well known in the web search world (but on leave from the company) jumped in on Twitter to debunk the video.

SourceFed offered two examples of how Google search allegedly suppresses negative information about Clinton with its autocomplete function. Type “Hillary Clinton cri,” and Google will suggest search terms like “crime reform” or “crime bill of 1994.” Microsoft’s Bing offers a more pointed phrase: “Hillary Clinton crimes.”

It appears Google doesn’t assume criminality about anyone, including Bernie Madoff, who was convicted of the biggest Ponzi scheme in history.

"Our Autocomplete algorithm will not show a predicted query that is offensive or disparaging when displayed in conjunction with a person's name,” the Google rep said.

Turns out, people love reading negative stories about Clinton and search for dirt on her using Google, Cutts notes.

Cutts cites other articles that poke holes in SourceFed's theories, including one on our sister site Vox. Then, he accuses the reporter of sloppy journalism.

Yet SourceFed suggests there’s some grand conspiracy here: That Google’s in the bag for Clinton because Eric Schmidt, chairman of parent company Alphabet, is a backer of The Groundwork — a major technology vendor for Clinton’s presidential campaign.

The theory has legs. Advisers to Donald Trump, Clinton's presumptive Republican competitor, are suspicious about Google’s search results, according to one source familiar with the campaign.

An article ran on Fox News earlier on Friday hinting at this sort of connection, titled: “Google search connects Trump to Hitler ... again.”

Here's the video SourceFed video:

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