Yahoo News explains: Could President Trump regulate Google?

Kate Murphy

This week President Trump said — without providing evidence — that Google’s search engine was hiding “fair media” coverage of him.

Following his tweets on Tuesday, the president said, “I think what Google and what others are doing, if you look at what’s going on with Twitter, if you look at what’s going on with Facebook, they better be careful because you can’t do that to people.”

According to Google’s explanation of how news stories are selected, an algorithm determines the majority of headlines users see when they do a search on Google — which looks at the user’s history, including Google Search and other properties.

A Google spokesperson addressed the president’s accusation in a statement Tuesday, saying, “When users type queries into the Google Search bar, our goal is to make sure they receive the most relevant answers in a matter of seconds. Search is not used to set a political agenda and we don’t bias our results toward any political ideology. 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.”

Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow said he would investigate the matter, saying he’s “looking in to it,” but didn’t provide any details.

Can Trump do anything to regulate Google? Not really. If Google deliberately chose to discriminate against specific news sources, that wouldn’t be illegal, according to legal experts who spoke with Yahoo Finance.

Google isn’t a government entity, and the First Amendment protects the rights of people and companies to favor speakers based on their viewpoints. There’s also very little Trump can do himself without congressional action.

Even if Congress enacted a law prohibiting companies from engaging in the type of discrimination Trump accused Google of, the law would most likely face an immediate First Amendment challenge it probably couldn’t overcome, Genevieve Lakier, an assistant law professor at the University of Chicago’s law school, told Yahoo Finance.

However, the Trump administration could attack other parts of Google’s business and threaten antitrust enforcement against the company. This would involve federal authorities closely examining Google’s information-tracking practices and contending that it doesn’t follow consumer protection laws.