An anonymous commenter put together these 3 screenshots (which I’ve checked and are legit) of the auto-complete prompts you get on 3 big search engines when you type in “deaths from op”:
I don’t really get why Google does this kind of thing. One reason they do this is because they can and almost nobody ever criticizes them for it.
For example, back in early 2010, I pointed out that Google had gone out of its way to not suggest “Pat Buchanan” as the auto-complete for “Pat Bu”, suggesting “Pat Buttram,” who played Mr. Haney on “Green Acres” and a whole bunch of even more obscure people whose names started “Pat Bu” but not Pat Buchanan. It stayed like that for quite some time, and then it stopped.
But almost nobody anywhere else ever mentioned this.
I tend to doubt that these kind of micro-gaslights are part of some grand plan that comes down from Larry and Sergey. Maybe it’s part of Google’s culture that hard workers are rewarded by being allowed to screw over a few people they don’t like?
Google’s misuse of its power would seem like an interesting subject to research, but virtually nobody goes there. One reason might be that you have good reason to wonder what Google might do to you in revenge.
On the other hand, some of Google’s gaslighting of its auto-complete prompts is clearly Policy with a capital P.
For example, in 2012 I wrote a Taki’s Magazine column about “Google Gaydar:” how you could type in a celebrity’s name and see by the recommended prompts what the public searches for in regard to him:
Other stars who score a 0 on Google Gaydar include Bill Murray, Walter Matthau, Jeff Bridges, W. C. Fields, Mel Gibson, Fred MacMurray, Robert Duvall, and Woody Allen. This doesn’t mean that they are all 100 percent straight, just that none of their ten most common search terms — or even the ten most popular beginning with the letter “g” — are the word “gay.”
In contrast, type in “Kevin Spacey,” and the word “gay” is immediately proposed as the single most efficient suggestion to finish your search. So Spacey gets a 100.
Now, from the perspective of the #MeToo Era, it might seem like a good thing that in 2012 Google’s auto-complete was alerting mothers whose 14-year-old sons had excitedly announced that they had just won a scholarship to the Kevin Spacey Sleepover Acting Camp for Theatrical Boys. But in 2013 Google changed its auto-complete to never ever suggest “gay” as an auto-completion prompt. In 2018, typing in “Kevin Spacey ga” gets you the following suggestions:
Duck Duck Go follows the same anti-gaydar policy as Google. In contrast, Microsoft’s Bing suggests:
But at least Google is here being consistent and not trying to pull the wool over anybody’s eyes about what it’s up to. Clearly, they made a policy decision. I can’t find any evidence on Google that Google ever publicly announced their policy change, and the news media doesn’t seem all that enthusiastic about reporting on what goes on inside Google, perhaps out of fear of what Google could do to them.
Similarly, Google refuses to respond to, say, a search for “Jerry Seinfeld Je” with any kind of religion- or ethnicity-related prompt. In contrast, Bing is happy to suggest that “Jewish” might be what you are looking for. Likewise, Google will not offer “Mormon” as a way to complete “Mitt Romney M,” while Bing will.
However, Google will autocomplete “Is the Pope” with “Catholic.”
It would seem to be pretty reasonable to ask that Google publicly disclose how it is manipulating specific topics like this, but nobody ever seems to do this.