A few hours ago, if you googled “California Republicans,” the search engine would produce an information box listing “Nazism” as the party’s primary belief system.
If you search for “California Republicans” on Google, Google lists “Nazism” as one of the ideologies. pic.twitter.com/JblamxkyF7
— Eric Wilson (@ericwilson) May 31, 2018
Google displays these boxes, called “knowledge panels,” for certain kinds of searches. Google “Goebbels,” for example, and up pop essential factoids about the Nazi propagandist, like when he was born and how tall he was.
Searching for political parties often brings up their “ideology.” Google “green party” and the knowledge panel says, “Ideology: Green politics, Anti-capitalism, Eco-socialism, Grassroots democracy.” If you click on one of those, it loads a Google search for that term. So for a time, it took Google users just one click to go from searching for “California Republicans” to getting results for “Nazism.”
Since Vice revealed the listing earlier today, the “ideology” field is no longer shown at all for the California Republicans. At time of writing, the field was still there for California Democrats.
Where did the “Nazism” tag come from? A likely candidate is Wikipedia, a known data source for knowledge panels. The current Wikipedia page for the California Republicans does not list “Nazism” as one of its ideologies. But recently, it did. The Wikipedia revision history shows that a user added the term “Nazism” last week. It was removed after several days.
That would have been enough time for Google to cache that data, include it in its search results, and display it for up to a week. And while “Nazism” has been scrubbed, another Wikipedia user today added “Authoritarianism” to the ideology listing for the California Republican Party. That too was deleted—but if Google drew on the page at just the wrong time, “authoritarianism” could also be displayed in the knowledge panel.
The Wikipedia user who added “Nazism” seems to have a penchant for using the crowdsourced encyclopedia to harshly characterize conservatives. Only identifiable by an IP address, he or she also added “Fascism, Promoting Racism,” to the “purpose” section of the page for Turning Point USA, a right-wing nonprofit group. The user also made this change to the page on “postmodernism,” referring to men’s rights thinker Jordan Peterson:
Removed the critiques of Jordan Peterson, as they should not be taken seriously, due to the fact that he rationalizes his critiques of postmodernism through evolutionary psychology, which is, in itself, a postmodern way of thinking
The case for Wikipedia causing the Google error is convincing. However, Google has not provided a hard-and-fast answer for the original source of “Nazism” in its ideology list.
“Sometimes people vandalize public information sources, like Wikipedia, which can impact the information that appears in search,” a company spokesperson told Vice, in a statement. “We have systems in place that catch vandalism before it impacts search results, but occasionally errors get through, and that’s what happened here.”
It is true that Nazism was an ideology associated with California Republicans this year; one California Republican Neo-Nazi is running for senate. Although disavowed by the party, Patrick Little, who has called to create a United States “free from Jews,” has enjoyed a surge of popularity. Either way, the news is surely dismaying to the Republican Party, and not a good look for Google, either.