This week, the conservative news site Breitbart published internal emails from inside Google headquarters showing that the search engine giant wanted to financially cripple Steve Bannon’s old stomping grounds following the election of Donald Trump. In never-before-seen conversations, Google employees discussed kicking Breitbart off the Google AdSense program, from which the site takes in nearly 40% of its advertising revenue. At a time when the top Google brass is desperately trying to convince lawmakers and the American public that it does not allow institutional political bias to affect its decision-making, the emails prove that this isn’t the entire truth.
To help them kick Breitbart off the program, Google employees began putting together a spreadsheet of examples of occasions in which the conservative site supposedly engaged in “hate speech,” which would put them in violation of the AdSense terms of service.
“My team has been reviewing the site on a frequent (at least weekly) from the fake news kick-off discussion,” said Google employee Jim Gray at the time.
“When sufficient violations have been found,” wrote Google’s quality manager Richard Zippel, “we’ll take action at the site level.”
“There is obviously a moral argument to be made as well as a business case,” Google employee Ryan Garza said of kicking Breitbart off the system.
In a statement defending the emails, Google said: “We have extensive and very well publicized policies for publishers who choose to monetize with Google ads. We enforce these policies vigorously, consistently and without any political bias. We regularly and routinely review sites in our ad network to ensure compliance with our policies. These emails from early 2017 simply show the AdSense team explaining that such a periodic review was underway.”
If there is anything working in Google’s favor, it is that they did not, ultimately, remove Breitbart from the AdSense program. However, when you combine these internal emails with a bevy of recent revelations, it forms a pattern that’s difficult to ignore. Previous leaks have shown that Google higher-ups discussed burying sites like Breitbart and The Daily Caller in their search results, talked about manipulating search results to push back on President Trump’s Middle Eastern travel ban, and engaged in get-out-the-vote operations in Hispanic communities in the hopes that it would work to Hillary Clinton’s benefit.