After weeks of criticism, Google’s search engine will no longer suggest to visitors that the Holocaust never happened — at least not part of the time, or on the front page. As Digital Trends reports, it initially appeared to have removed a result for the query “did the Holocaust happen” from white supremacist site Stormfront, which previously appeared at the top of the first page. That followed a smaller change that ranked the page a bit lower. But the algorithmic change instead seems simply to be pushing it down further, and a bit inconsistently — at this writing, it’s back on the first page, toward the bottom.
“Google was built on providing people with high-quality and authoritative results for their search queries,” the company said in a statement to multiple outlets. “We strive to give users a breadth of diverse content from variety of sources and we’re committed to the principle of a free and open web. Judging which pages on the web best answer a query is a challenging problem and we don’t always get it right.” Initially, Google had said the results would stay as they were, although the Stormfront page was not endorsed by Google. “We do not remove content from our search results, except in very limited cases such as illegal content, malware and violations of our webmaster guidelines,” a spokesperson told Forbes at the time. Those exceptions didn’t apply to “Top 10 reasons why the Holocaust didn’t happen,” as the top-ranked page was called.
The controversy over these results has highlighted the gap between Google’s dual existence as a neutral web index and a comprehensive repository for facts. The more Google emphasizes its digital assistant role, the more these kind of results feel like surfacing dangerously inaccurate answers to literal questions, not simply listing pages with objectionable content in response to searches about them. Unfortunately, as Gizmodo points out, it’s still willing to spit out some ugly results for other loaded queries about race and religion — although some of them seem to have been cleaned up as well.
Correction December 27th, 8AM ET: The search result doesn’t seem to have been removed, but pushed down to varying degrees.