A tech reporter claimed Thursday that Google uses its power to censor the internet, alleging that the company pressured her to delete an article detailing its deliberate stifling of search traffic.
Former Forbes reporter Kashmir Hill reportedly discovered during a 2011 social media meeting with Google that the company would rank links higher on its search engine if those links included buttons for its Google Plus social network, according to the reporter’s Gizmodo article.
“The Google salespeople were encouraging Forbes to add Plus’s ‘+1’ social buttons to articles on the site, alongside the Facebook Like button and the Reddit share button,” Hill said. “They said it was important to do because the Plus recommendations would be a factor in search results—a crucial source of traffic to publishers.”
“By tying search results to the use of Plus, Google was using that muscle to force people to promote its social network,” Hill said.
The former Forbes reporter clarified her interpretation with Google’s press office, which did not say she was wrong, but preferred to phrase the Google Plus button function as something that “influences the ranking” of pages.
Hill published an article in Forbes entitled “Stick Google Plus Buttons On Your Pages, Or Your Search Traffic Suffers” in which she detailed the exchange.
“Google promptly flipped out,” Hill said. “This was in 2011, around the same time that a congressional antitrust committee was looking into whether the company was abusing its powers.”
Google allegedly did not object to the accuracy of the story but told Hill to take it down, citing the confidentiality of the meeting in which the writer had learned the information. However, Hill claims that there was no such arrangement for confidentiality. (RELATED: Anti-Corporate Voices On Both Right And Left Claim Google Censorship)
The writer claims that Google contacted Forbes with the request to remove the article from the site, implying that the article could damage Forbes’ Google traffic. Hill took down the article after persistent pressure from management.
“But the most disturbing part of the experience was what came next: Somehow, very quickly, search results stopped showing the original story at all,” Hill said, explaining that a cached version of the piece also quickly disappeared. “That was unusual … Scraped versions could still be found, but the traces of my original story vanished.” (RELATED: Google And YouTube Ban Prof Who Refused To Use Gender-Neutral Pronouns)
“Deliberately manipulating search results to eliminate references to a story that Google doesn’t like would be an extraordinary, almost dystopian abuse of the company’s power over information on the internet,” Hill said. “I don’t have any hard evidence to prove that that’s what Google did in this instance, but it’s part of why this episode has haunted me for years: The story Google didn’t want people to read swiftly became impossible to find through Google.”
A Google spokesperson told Hill that Forbes removed the article because it was “not reported responsibly.”
Mia Carbonell, a spokeswoman for Forbes, declined to comment to The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“We raised concern that a reporter was publishing information taken from a confidential meeting to Forbes’ editors and they chose to remove it,” Rob Shilkin, Google’s vice president of global communications, told TheDCNF. “Regarding the claim that the story was removed from search results quickly, it’s trivial for a website owner to request its cache to be cleared [see here]. We had nothing to do with removing the article from the cache.”
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