Lawmakers in the US House of Representatives have invited Google CEO Sundra Pichai to ask him why the company’s search engine website brings up numerous pictures of President Donald Trump when users type the word “idiot.”
Pichai appeared before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday to refute the idea that his company was manipulating search results for political purposes.
The question was put forward by Democratic Representative Zoe Lofgren, who was apparently trying to help Pichai.
“Right now, if you google the word ‘idiot’ under images, a picture of Donald Trump comes up. I just did that,” she said. “How would that happen?”
Pichai offered a long, general explanation the way Google returns results, saying the search algorithm was based on billions of keywords that were ranked according to 200 factors.
“Any time you type in a keyword, as Google we have gone out and crawled and stored copies of billions of [websites’] pages in our index. And we take the keyword and match it against their pages and rank them based on over 200 signals — things like relevance, freshness, popularity, how other people are using it,” he said.
“And based on that, at any given time, we try to rank and find the best search results for that query. And then we evaluate them with external raters, and they evaluate it to objective guidelines. And that’s how we make sure the process is working,” he added.
“So it’s not some little man sitting behind the curtain figuring out what we’re going to show the user?” Lofgren responded sarcastically.
“This is working at scale, and we don’t manually intervene on any particular search result,” Pichai stressed.
The exchange set the social media on fire, making “idiot” one of the most trending stories of the day.
The issue was first picked up by the media earlier this year. As the story gained more popularity, more outlets gave it coverage in an attempt to clarify it.
As a result, if you search the term today you’ll mostly get pictures from stories explaining why Trump is included in the results.
Despite the media hype, the practice of “Google bombing” is nothing new and has always been used by outside parties familiar with Google’s search patterns.
By linking to posts with certain combination of words and images, the people behind the gag have managed to convince Google’s computers that a Trump picture is what most people want when they search for “idiot.”
Trump isn’t the first US president to get Google-bombed. Former President George W. Bush was also targeted in a similar way in the mid-2000s, when searches for “miserable failure” returned results about him.