Ron Paul’s Racist Search Result, Or How A Certain Google Feature Isn’t Always HelpfulBy: Josh Wolford - January 16, 2012
If you are a frequent user of Google News, you probably know that when you search for highly talked-about, newsworthy people within the News framework, Google provides you with a relevant quote from the person at the top of your results.
This quote usually comes from a popular or recent article about the person that also appears in the Google News search results. The quote is automatically generated by a Google algorithm – not hand-picked. And as we know all too well, there are often flaws in algorithms.
This leads us to Ron Paul, and the unfortunate misquote that adorned his search results a couple weeks ago. Barry Schwartz pointed me to a Google News Help thread where one user had captured a result with a particularly racist misquote from the Presidential hopeful:
The outraged user commented:
This was never spoken by Ron Paul, and should not be displaying Inaccurate and Misleading racist quote to Millions of Google users. Can anyone post a news article with “questionable content” and then have Google use it to deface an individual just because of one authors prejudice? Please remove this, it has been showing for days, I would hope Paul himself would take legal action against Google for something of this nature.
There’s a good point in there. This kind of thing could be seen by millions and millions of Google users, especially if it was plastered at the top of the results for multiple days. Of course, Google didn’t do this on purpose to smear Ron Paul, but there’s no denying that this kind of accidental misquote displayed so prominently could really do damage to a public figure – especially a politician running for the highest office in the land.
This quote is no longer displayed when one searches for Ron Paul within Google News –
But it got me thinking. This Google News feature may have the problem of providing some serious confusion, misquoting, and out of context quoting on occasion. I mean right now, if you search Mitt Romney within Google News, you get this quote at the very top:
To be fair, that’s not a misquote – Romney did say that. But that quote has been at the center of a huge controversy within the Republican party and a focal point of attacks against the former Governor for the past week. The whole controversy centers on the fact that Romney supporters feel that quote was taken out of context. It’s kind of ironic to see it presented at the top of a Google search without any context.
Other, smaller problems can occur as well. Take for instance the confusion created when you search for Joe Biden within Google News:
That quote is cut off and therefore it is unclear who he is talking about. To a casual searcher who doesn’t quite grasp that section’s function, it might appear that it’s just saying that Joe Biden himself will “double down” on those policies.
Then again, sometimes the algorithm works splendidly:
As you probably already know, this little Google problem pales in comparison to the one facing another GOP hopeful.