after the Trump administration instituted a controversial travel
ban in January 2017, Google employees discussed ways they might
be able to tweak the company’s search-related functions to show
users how to contribute to pro-immigration organizations and
contact lawmakers and government agencies, according to internal
email traffic, reviewed by The Wall Street Journal, shows that
employees proposed ways to “leverage” search functions and
take steps to counter what they considered to be
“islamophobic, algorithmically biased results from search
terms ‘Islam’, ‘Muslim’, ‘Iran’, etc.” and “prejudiced,
algorithmically biased search results from search terms
‘Mexico’, ‘Hispanic’, ‘Latino’, etc.”
email chain, while sprinkled with cautionary notes about
engaging in political activity, suggests employees considered
ways to harness the company’s vast influence on the internet
in response to the travel ban. Google said none of the ideas
discussed were implemented.
emails were just a brainstorm of ideas, none of which were
ever implemented,” a company spokeswoman said in a statement.
“Google has never manipulated its search results or modified
any of its products to promote a particular political
ideology—not in the current campaign season, not during the
2016 election, and not in the aftermath of President Trump’s
executive order on immigration. Our processes and policies
would not have allowed for any manipulation of search results
to promote political ideologies.”
one of the emails a worker wrote: “I know this would require a
full on sprint to make happen, but I think this is the sort of
super timely and imperative information that we need as we
know that this country and Google, would not exist without
disclosure is certain to fuel complaints by many Republicans
that Google, a unit ofAlphabet Inc., stifles
conservative viewpoints online and promotes a liberal
worldview. Those longstanding concerns have received more
attention recently from some GOP congressional leaders, as
well as President Trump himself, in the run-up to the 2018
week Attorney General Jeff Sessions is scheduled to meet with
some state attorneys general to discuss concerns of
anticonservative bias. Conservatives recently expressed anger
after Breitbart News released a video of a 2016 company
meeting in which Google senior managers lamented Mr. Trump’s
election victory. Google said the comments from executives in
the video expressed the personal beliefs of those executives,
not the company’s.
Trump’s original travel ban, implemented to restrict
immigration from countries deemed a security risk, temporarily
barred visitors and immigrants from seven majority-Muslim
countries, and placed new limits on the U.S. refugee program.
It sparked huge protests and chaos at many U.S. airports. It
was challenged in court and, after several revisions, was
upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.
joined nearly 100 technology companies, including Apple Inc. and Facebook Inc., in
filing a joint amicus brief in February 2017 challenging
President Trump’s travel ban. “The order inflicts
significant harm on American business, innovation, and
growth,” the companies
said in the brief.
co-founder Sergey Brin, who immigrated from the Soviet Union
as a child, appeared at a rally protesting the travel ban
outside San Francisco’s airport.
email conversation on the issue included several cautionary
comments. “This is a highly political issue, so we need to
remain fair and balanced and present facts,” one executive
wrote, in response to proposals to tweak search-related
Google emails were written on Sunday, Jan. 29, two days after
Mr. Trump signed the first version of his travel order, which
generally restricted immigration to the U.S. from several
of the emails, from an employee of the Search Product
Marketing division, explained that there was a “large
brainstorm” going throughout the company’s marketing division
over how to respond.
idea: Leverage search to highlight important organizations to
donate to, current news, etc. to keep people abreast of how
they can help as well as the resources available for
immigrations [sic] or people traveling,” the email says.
email included a compilation of specific ideas that individual
company officials had already floated. Some apparently
involved finding ways to “actively counter” Google searches
that produced anti-Islamic and anti-Hispanic search results.
Others centered on Highlights, the code name for an
experimental project Google has tested that allows influential
people, like politicians and musicians, to post text updates
that appear directly in search results.
list of ideas included:
counter islamophobic, algorithmically biased results from
search terms ‘Islam’, ‘Muslim’, ‘Iran’, etc.”
counter prejudiced, algorithmically biased search results from
search terms ‘Mexico’, ‘Hispanic’, ‘Latino’, etc.”
we launch an ephemeral experience that includes Highlights,
up-to-date info from the US State Dept, DHS, links to donate
to ACLU, etc?” the email added.
officials responded favorably to the overall idea. “We’re
absolutely in…Anything you need,” one wrote.
a public-affairs executive wrote: “Very much in favor of
Google stepping up, but just have a few questions on this,”
including “how partisan we want to be on this.”
the extent of my knowledge, we’d be breaching precedent if we
only gave Highlights access to organizations that support a
certain view of the world in a time of political conflict,”
the public-affairs executive said. “Is that accurate? If so,
would we be willing to open access to highlights to
[organizations] that…actually support the ban?”
to John D. McKinnon at firstname.lastname@example.org and
Douglas MacMillan at email@example.com