Between 1941 and 1945, 6 million Jews were killed by Nazi Germany in the deadliest genocide in the history of the world. But if you ask Google if it really happened, the top search result doesn’t return any of that information as fact.
The top result when Googling “did the holocaust happen” is from Stormfront.org, “the first major hate site on the Internet” started by former Alabama Klan head Don Black. The white supremacist site is anti-Semitic, anti-black and anti-Muslim. The result, “Top 10 reasons why the holocaust didn’t happen,” appears ahead of the Wikipedia page for the Holocaust as well as the “Common Questions about the Holocaust” page from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
And Google won’t be doing anything to change that.
“We are saddened to see that hate organizations still exist. The fact that hate sites appear in Search results does not mean that Google endorses these views,” a Google spokesperson told Forbes. “We do not remove content from our search results, except in very limited cases such as illegal content, malware and violations of our webmaster guidelines.”
But some say allowing the search result to remain at the top of the list provides legitimacy to beliefs that are untrue and could cause someone looking to research the topic to get pulled into a forum full of conspiracy theories. They argue Google has an obligation to ensure falsehoods are not being promoted to those who are looking for more information on a particular topic and could come away believing a lie.
“This is hate speech. It’s lies. It’s racist propaganda. And Google is disseminating it. It is what the data scientist Cathy O’Neil calls a ‘co-conspirator.,’” wrote Carole Cadwalladr in the Guardian. “And so are we. Because what happens next is entirely down to us. This is our internet. And we need to make a decision: do we believe it’s acceptable to spread hate speech, to promulgate lies as the world becomes a darker, murkier place?”
Google said the order of its search results are determined by an algorithm that takes into account hundreds of factors to return the most relevant results for a user. The company has in the past pushed back on suggestions to remove or revise search results, concerned that censoring them could start a troubling trend.
The problem is one the technology industry is increasingly struggling with since the election of Donald Trump. With his victory came a rise in hate crime reports nationwide and a higher profile for the formerly underground white nationalist groups that refer to themselves as the “alt right.” Trump’s chief White House strategist, Stephen Bannon, is the former editor in chief of Brietbart News, which promotes racist content.
“Fake news” also ran rampant during the election campaign, with websites that are not verified, trusted news sources running articles based on partial truth or no truth whatsoever. Along with Google, Facebook has been challenged by how to respond to fake news being spread on its platforms while ensuring it respects the First Amendment right to free speech.