A story coming out of the UK today suggested that Google might be preparing to alter search results, triggered by “extremist” queries, and “divert” users to anti-extremist or anti-radical content and sites instead. Fighting extremism is desirable, but the notion of altering search content to serve political objectives is a troubling prospect.
Fortunately, that’s not what’s happening.
Articles in The Guardian and The Telegraph implied that organic results would be changed to remove or suppress radical content sources. Accordingly, there was a brief discussion internally at Search Engine Land about whether Google might suppress otherwise non-radical information if it might be used in furtherance of radical objectives.
Would Google, for example, censor results where queries had bomb-making implications (e.g., fertilizer)? It turns out, however, that Google isn’t doing anything like what we imagined or what was suggested. Google is simply giving away ad credits to organizations that fight extremism.
It’s only about ads.
We were able to confirm from Google that the pilot program referenced in the articles involves Google AdWords Grants for non-profit organizations. Under the AdWords Grants program, qualifying non-profits/non-governmental organizations (NGOs) receive $10,000 worth of AdWords credits each month if they meet certain criteria.
NGOs that promote anti-radicalization would be able to use those credits to advertise against extremist queries. This is essentially no different from any advertiser selecting keywords for ad targeting on Google. The company is simply enabling these organizations to participate in the AdWords Grants program.
It’s not entirely clear what caused the confusion or ambiguity that appeared in the articles.
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