Google Slammed Over Election News Link

John Lister's picture

Critics of Google say the search engine's algorithm is giving undue credibility to a website claiming to have final voting figures for the US election. The site, which is given prime position when users search for several election-related terms, appears to be unauthoritative and rely on questionable sources.

As with any story in this year's US presidential election, its likely to prove partisan responses on both sides. However, this specific scenario is about Google's quality control, rather than political arguments.

The issue surrounds the way Google doesn't just produce a list of websites in its results page for topical search, but also heads the page with a selection of news article headlines and links. For the article at the top of the page -- theoretically the most relevant answer to the user's query -- Google also shows snippets of text from the relevant article.

Headline Claims Trump Ahead

In this case a search for phrases such as "Final Vote Count 2016" brings up the headline "FINAL ELECTION 2016 NUMBERS: TRUMP WON BOTH POPULAR (62.9M-62.2M) AND ELECTORAL COLLEGE". (Source:

Those numbers bear little relation to tallies reported by any authoritative source, most of which -- at the time of writing and of the article appearing in Google's prime position -- had Clinton rather than Trump ahead by around 700,000 votes. In any case, no "final" figures are available as counting, particularly of absentee ballots, is still continuing in some states.

This isn't a matter of political preferences or a question of who is indeed ahead. Instead the real problem according to critics is that the site in question does not offer any credible evidence for its total. It's a blog named 70 News that gives its source for the claim by simply linking to a Twitter account run by a private individual as its source.

Figures Based On Faulty Premise

That individual later posted on Twitter to say the figures were based on an assumed party breakdown of a large number absentee ballots that had not been counted. Even if both the claim and the assumption are correct, by definition ballots which are not counted are also not part of the official final vote tally. (Source:

While anyone who follows the links and reads both the 70 News blog and the Twitter account in depth may figure this out, there's still a danger that Google users will simply see the headline and, because Google places it in such a prominent position, assume it carries some authority.

What's Your Opinion?

Should Google include blogs alongside major news sources when picking news links to feature prominently on results pages? Should it have higher standards for the "prime" result that gets the top spot? Or is it up to users to exercise their judgment and assess sources?

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Dennis Faas's picture

Part of Google's algorithm for determining authoritative sources is the sheer volume of links (made by users) which point to a particular source (website) for certain keywords. About 10 years ago it was easy to game the system (Google) by spamming search engines with links pointing to bogus sources, but that is not so much the case.

Since then, Google has done away with Page Rank altogether (which now officially remains a secret); this in turn has has killed off the majority of the 'link selling' and 'link swapping' industry. Google has also implemented Google Panda and Penguin updates which have killed off large numbers of splogs (spam blogs), which has increased quality in the search results.

I could go on about other changes, but the ones I mentioned are major factors in killing off not-so-reputable sites from being listed in Google's search engine.

As for the reason Google listed this particular site as the top authority - well, that is going to be a closely guarded secret, because as I already mentioned, it has to deal with their search algorithm, which also deals with the number of sites linking to that page.

As for the other question - should Google de-list Blogs from news sources? I don't think that would be a good idea, considering many blogs are more informative then major news networks, with some even carry fewer advertisements.

John Lister's picture

Perhaps part of the problem is that while the ordinary search rankings can take a long view and see which pages are getting links from authoritative sites over time, ranking news sources means working with a much shorter period of data, making it more likely a page can rocket to the top even if it's later discredited.