Trump Supporters on Reddit Think Google Is Rigging Autocomplete for Hillary

June 3, 2016, 9:00pm

Crooked Hillary. It's not the most creative of nicknames, but the moniker for Hillary Clinton has been gleefully bandied by Donald Trump supporters ever since he first uttered it at a rally in April:

But now, Trump supporters on Reddit are suspicious because when you start to type the sobriquet into Google search ("crooked H…i…l") the autocomplete in the search bar doesn't offer up Crooked Hillary as a suggestion.

Image: Reddit

"I ran the search for 'crooked h' Thursday at around 11 AM," the Reddit user who originally raised the issue, 0fficerNasty, told me via email. "You could even expand it up to 'crooked hil' and it wouldn't appear."

When I checked on Friday, the fourth autocomplete spot for "Crooked H" was "crooked Hillary Bernie," but the plain "Crooked Hillary" still wasn't showing up. When you do the search on Bing, however, "Crooked Hillary" is suggested before you even finish typing "crook." As one Reddit user pointed out, when you look at the search trends for all the other autocomplete options that Google offered 0fficerNasty, Crooked Hillary significantly outpaces them:

Image: Google Trends

So why is Crooked Hillary not readily popping up on autocomplete? Does Google, as the pro-Trump Redditors suspect, manually remove the result? Or is just a glitch?

"It is certainly weird," Danny Sullivan, a founding editor of the blog Search Engine Land and a search engine expert, told me over the phone. "He's been calling Hillary Clinton crooked long enough that you'd think it would have an impact."


Sullivan explained that autocomplete is based on the most popular terms Google users are searching. It's generated based on frequency and volume, but can change depending on geographic location or if a major news event is causing a lot of people to suddenly Google something new. Sometimes it can take awhile for a popular term to make it into the autocomplete, but Sullivan thought since Trump has been tossing around the "Crooked Hillary" title for months, that it should have made it on the list by now.

Sullivan noted Google does sometimes exclude the autocomplete—to filter out negative search terms about race or religion, for example—but he didn't think that's what was happening here. The Trump supporters on Reddit were more suspicious.

"Crooked Hillary has been the hot nickname this month they are totally censoring it," one user said.

"Google most definitely has a liberal bias. it's disgusting. the SJW presence in Silicon Valley is some of the worst out there," wrote another.

So what does Google have to say?

Google told me it does not manipulate autocomplete terms, including not manipulating to favor any political candidates.

"Autocomplete predictions are produced based on a number of factors including the popularity of search terms," Kara Berman, a spokesperson at Google, told me via email. "Our systems are periodically updated to improve search, and our users' search activity varies, so the terms that appear in autocomplete may change over time. "

Sullivan pointed out that as fun as it is to obsess over autocomplete, the real indicator would be if Google was censoring search results, which it doesn't appear to be. Googling "Crooked Hillary" turns up reams of hits, and even just a search for "Hillary Clinton" doesn't favor positive or negative content.

"That's the meter of it," Sullivan said. "You can have a concern about whether or not they suppress the autosuggest, but you're much more concerned about what they're doing when you actually do the search."