Google search prioritises Holocaust denial website

Occurred: December 2016

A Holocaust denial website has been found to have listed top for a Google search on the phrase 'Did the holocaust happen?', drawing the ire of Jewish campaigners and human and civil rights advocates.

In December 2016, The Guardian discovered that, which describes itself as 'the voice of the new, embattled white minority… a community of racial realists and idealists', was dominating Google's search results for a range of Holocaust-related searches. 

Around 10 days later several more factual sites, notably that of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) - which confronts Holocaust denial and accuses those who deny it of anti-semitism - were found to be much more visible in Google's search results. 

According to SearchEngineLand, the success of these more factual sites was likely due to the fact that they had been developed by search engine optimisation experts, rather than an update to Google's algorithms.

The fracas prompted considerable debate on the nature of Google's search system, with commentators pointing out how easy it is for extremists and others to manipulate it to amplify misinformation and hate speech.

The company later updated its search algorithm to prioritise high quality information, lowering the profile of sites associated with racial hate speech, and removing anti-Semitic queries on its Autocomplete search prediction function.

Operator: Alphabet/Google
Developer: Alphabet/Google

Country: USA

Sector: Politics

Purpose: Rank content/search results

Technology: Search engine algorithm; NLP/text analysis
Issue: Accuracy/reliability; Mis/disinformation; Safety

Transparency: Governance; Black box

Page info
Type: Incident
Published: March 2023
Last updated: November 2023