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algorithmically biased
September 21, 2018

When Attorney General Jeff Sessions meets with state attorneys general next week to discuss whether tech companies are suppressing free speech, it seems he'll now have one more thing to talk about.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that in the wake of President Trump's 2017 travel ban, Google employees discussed tweaking the company's "search-related functions" to direct users towards pro-immigration groups to which they could donate money, as well as to tell them how to get in touch with lawmakers.

This report is based on a series of leaked emails obtained by the Journal, which also show that Google discussed ways to "leverage" search results in order to counter "islamophobic, algorithmically biased results" for certain words, such as "Islam" and "Muslim."

Google says none of these concepts ever went into effect and that the emails simply show a "brainstorm of ideas." The company added that it has "never manipulated its search results or modified any of its products to promote a particular political ideology." Even in the email exchanges themselves, one executive warned that "we need to remain fair and balanced" and said that if they were to do this, it must also promote organizations that support the ban, suggesting the plan received some internal pushback before ultimately being discarded.

Nevertheless, Trump supporters, some of whom have argued without evidence that Google manipulates its algorithm to damage the president, seized on the report, with Donald Trump Jr. tweeting it out to his followers on Friday. Brendan Morrow

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