President Trump upped his war on the “fake news media” in late August 2018 by claiming that not only were news outlets such as the New York Times, CNN, and the Washington Post out to get him, but that the world’s most popular search engine, Google, was also providing biased results in order to highlight negative stories about his administration.
President Trump shared a video to his personal Twitter account with the hashtag #StopTheBias in an attempt to provide evidence of how Google was using a different set of rules for his administration. The video, which was later pinned to the top of Trump’s Twitter feed and shared by the official @Potus and @WhiteHouse Twitter accounts, featured a series of screenshots of Google’s homepage reportedly taken on the date of previous State of the Union speeches. For the years in which Barack Obama was president, the video showed a link on Google’s homepage directing viewers to where they could watch the address. For the years in which President Trump was president, according to the video, Google displayed no such link:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 29, 2018
This video quickly went viral, and at least one Republican politician, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, used the tweet to promulgate the rumor about Google’s alleged political bias.
However, Google actually did link to President Trump’s State of the Union address in 2018. In fact, it was a point of pride among his most loyal fans on The_Donald subsection of Reddit. On 30 January 2018, as President Trump delivered his first State of the Union address, a screenshot of Google’s homepage showing a link to Trump’s speech was shared with the caption: “Google homepage linking to the GEOTUS address” (GE is shorthand for “God Emperor”):
Several archived pages from the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine also show Google’s homepage linking to President Trump’s State of the Union Address. It’s likely that whoever created this video missed these links as they were displayed on the Wayback Machine’s calendar for 31 January 2018, the day after Trump’s speech due to a difference in time zones. For instance, one screenshot was archived on 31 January 2018 at 2:33 AM GMT, which converts to about 10:30 PM EST on 30 January 2018, about the time President Trump was finishing up his speech in Washington, D.C.
This video was correct when it showed that Google didn’t display a link to President Trump’s 2017 speech. However, the reason for this doesn’t appear to be any inherit bias in Google’s algorithms; rather, the search engine giant released a statement explaining that they didn’t promote a link for President Trump’s 2017 speech, just as they didn’t promote President Obama’s speech in 2009, as an incoming president’s initial address before Congress is not technically considered a State of the Union address:
On January 30 2018, we highlighted the livestream of President Trump’s State of the Union on the google.com homepage. We have historically not promoted the first address to Congress by a new President, which is technically not a State of the Union address. As a result, we didn’t include a promotion on google.com for this address in either 2009 or 2017.
The official White House web site seemingly acknowledges the fact that President Trump’s 2017 speech was not, in fact, a State of the Union address. While a transcript for his remarks on 30 January 2018 can be found under the title “President Donald J. Trump’s State of the Union Address,” his speech of 28 February 2017 is simply labeled “Remarks by President Trump in Joint Address to Congress.”
Our search of the internet archives for Google’s homepage on 24 February 2009, the date President Obama delivered his first public address before a joint session of the United States Congress, showed no link promoting a live video of the event.
The video shared by President Trump attempted to paint Google as biased against his administration by claiming that the search engine had altered their practice of promoting the State of the Union on its homepage shortly after he became president. The evidence, however, shows that Google made no such change: the search engine giant actually did promote President Trump’s first SOTU address in 2018. But since his 2017 speech was not technically a State of the Union address, Google — as they had done with the previous administration — did not promote the event on their home page.
In 2019 Google once again promoted the State of the Union Address in the U.S., offering a link under the search bar touting “Watch President Trump’s State of the Union address. Tonight on YouTube at 9p ET” and pointing to a live YouTube stream of the address:
The link appeared under a Google doodle celebrating the Lunar New Year (also known as the “Chinese New Year”).