Google altered World Cup search results to spare Brazil further humiliation


If you love Brazilian futebol, this has been an especially tough week; that devastating loss to Germany in the World Cup semi-finals was a shock to fans used to victory. Thankfully for you, Google feels your pain. The internet giant has revealed to NPR that its experimental social newsroom for the Cup avoided covering some of the bigger Brazilian search trends during the lopsided match, such as “shame,” because they were simply too negative. As producer Sam Clohesy explains, the decision was motivated both by a desire to go viral as well as pure sympathy. People tend not to respond well to bad news on social networks, and Google would rather not “rub salt into the wounds”, unlike a regular news outlet, it has more incentive to write about cheerful happenings than calamities. 

If you do a Google search on the World Cup game in which Germany slaughtered Brazil 7-1, the top results will say things like “destroy,” “defeat,” and “humiliate.” But Google itself is choosing to steer clear of negative terms. The company has created an experimental newsroom in San Francisco to monitor the World Cup, and turn popular search results into viral content. And they’ve got a clear editorial bias. Around the world, billions of people kept both eyes fixed on the TV during the matches. In the Google newsroom, data scientists had one eye on the Brazil-Germany semifinal and the other on the computer screen. They were mining the company’s confidential, internal databases to see what people are searching for. Turns out in Brazil, the lyrics for a rallying chant got popular. Luciana Meinking Guimarães, the newsroom’s Portuguese translator, says there was an 18 percent spike in searches for the term “Brazil show your strength.” But that was before Germany’s fifth goal. Brazilians didn’t bother to look for the word “defense.” Instead, “shame” climbed up the charts. Guimarães listed off terms in the top 50 search results from Brazil: ” ‘Brazil what a shame.’ ‘It’s a shame to be Brazilian right now.’ ‘Shame,’ with the name of the team.”

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