Donald Trump tweets nonsense on such a regular basis that it’s hardly news-worthy anymore, but this latest embrace of a debunked three-year-old claim about Google’s search algorithm leading people to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016.
In the tweet, Trump asserts that Clinton got “2.6 million to 16 million” more votes than she would have without Google’s help, accusing the internet company of directly manipulating voters.
Wow, Report Just Out! Google manipulated from 2.6 million to 16 million votes for Hillary Clinton in 2016 Election! This was put out by a Clinton supporter, not a Trump Supporter! Google should be sued. My victory was even bigger than thought! @JudicialWatch— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 19, 2019
According to The Hill, this claim comes from Senate hearing testimony put forth by a single researcher pushing the idea of a “Search Engine Manipulation Effect” that supposedly pushed voters toward Clinton. Of course, other experts on the subject matter have claimed that skewed Google results likely did the opposite, disproportionately giving results from outlets like Fox News, Breitbart, and sometimes outright fake news sites high results and therefore pushing people toward Trump. But Trump doesn’t tweet about that.
In a way, this is at least better than Trump’s past completely unsubstantiated claims that millions of people voted for Clinton illegally, somehow. Either way, it’s clear that the President is still very sensitive about the fact that he lost the popular vote in 2016.
As for the researcher who made the claim referenced by Trump this morning, Robert Epstein, it turns out that he’s had a beef with Google since 2012 when they placed a warning over links to his website because it was giving people malware. After threatening legal action, Epstein eventually admitted that his website had indeed been hacked and was infected with malware, but still blamed Google for the harm done to his website because they didn’t help him find and purge the infection, which isn’t the company’s job.
Google has already responded to Trump’s tweet and Epstein’s claims, reiterating its rejection of the researcher’s findings.
“This researcher’s inaccurate claim has been debunked since it was made in 2016,” said a company spokesperson. “As we stated then, we have never re-ranked or altered search results to manipulate political sentiment.”
Dr. Robert Epstein, who was a Hillary Clinton supporter, testified to the U.S. Senate that Google's search engine was able to manipulate votes in 2016 "on a massive scale" - "at least" 2.6 million votes.— Trump War Room (@TrumpWarRoom) August 19, 2019
This is shocking! The American people need to hear this. pic.twitter.com/jP3pdoNkdZ
Google, of course, is only motivated to protect itself. But looking at a description of the actual research Epstein did on the subject, Trump’s tweeted numbers don’t add up. The Los Angeles Times reported on Epstein back in March and reported something much different.
“Using a model he has developed to gauge the subliminal effect of what he sees as tilted search results, Epstein projected 35,455 voters who were on the fence were persuaded to vote for a Democrat entirely because of the sources Google fed them.”
It’s unclear why Epstein updated this number to at least 2.6 million in his testimony in June. It’s also not clear why Trump and his base are acting like this information is “just out.” It must have been picked up by Fox News.