President Donald Trump has accused Google and other US tech companies of rigging search results about him “so that almost all stories & news is BAD”.
He offered no evidence of bias, but a top adviser said the White House is “taking a look” at whether Google should face federal regulation.
Google pushed back sharply, saying: “We never rank search results to manipulate political sentiment.”
The president, who has said he runs on little sleep, jumped on to Twitter before dawn on Tuesday to rehash his recent complaints about alleged suppression of conservative voices and positive news about him.
He followed that up with vague threats in Oval Office comments.
“I think Google has really taken advantage of a lot of people, and I think that’s a very serious thing. That’s a very serious charge,” Mr Trump said, adding that Google, Twitter, Facebook and others “better be careful, because you can’t do that to people.”
Mr Trump claimed that “we have literally thousands and thousands of complaints coming in. … So I think that Google and Twitter and Facebook, they’re really treading on very, very troubled territory and they have to be careful.”
Larry Kudlow, the president’s top economic adviser, told reporters later that the White House is “taking a look” at whether Google searches should be subject to some government regulation.
In his tweets, Mr Trump said — without offering evidence — that “Google search results for ‘Trump News’ shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake New Media. In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD. Fake CNN is prominent. Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out. Illegal?”
He added, again with no evidence, that “96% of results on “Trump News” are from National Left-Wing Media, very dangerous”.
A search query on Tuesday morning, several hours after the president tweeted, showed stories from CNN, ABC News, Fox News and the MarketWatch business site, among others.
A similar search later in the day for “Trump” had Fox News, the president’s favoured cable network, among the top results.
Google, based in Mountain View, California, said its aim is to make sure its search engine users quickly get the most relevant answers.
“Search is not used to set a political agenda and we don’t bias our results toward any political ideology,” the company said in a statement.
“Every year, we issue hundreds of improvements to our algorithms to ensure they surface high-quality content in response to users’ queries. We continually work to improve Google Search and we never rank search results to manipulate political sentiment.”
Experts suggested that Mr Trump’s comments showed a misunderstanding of how search engines work.
Google searches aim to surface the most relevant pages in response to a user’s query, even before he or she finishes typing.
The answers that appear first are the ones Google’s formulas, with some help from human content reviewers, deem to be the most authoritative, informative and relevant.
Many factors help decide the initial results, including how much time people spend on a page, how many other pages link to it, how well it is designed and more.
Steven Andres, who teaches about management information systems at San Diego State University, said people often assume that if you give a computer the same inputs no matter where you are that you “get the same outputs”.
But it doesn’t work that way, he said. “You’re seeing different things every moment of the day and the algorithms are always trying to change the results.”