What’s the Score on Censorship?

March 12, 2020

A closer look at how search engines like Google are picking winners and losers. Action Alert!

We at ANH have been deeply concerned about the growing trend of censorship on the part of major Internet gatekeepers. We decided to see how deep the censorship goes by comparing the results of natural health searches on four different search engines: Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo, and Startpage. We found significant differences among these companies, but the biggest takeaway is that search engines seem to be picking winners and losers in the sites they prioritize, which is a big problem for the free flow of information.

Our search terms included the following:

  • vitamin D flu
  • bioidentical hormones
  • homeopathy
  • fluoride safety
  • 5G safety
  • GMO safety
  • natural cold remedies
  • natural menopause treatment

The most striking takeaway was the degree to which WebMD and the Mayo Clinic dominated these searches: for the eight search terms listed above, either one, the other, or both of WebMD and the Mayo Clinic showed up in the top five hits for six out of the eight terms. In two cases (“GMO safety” and “fluoride safety”), DuckDuckGo and Bing turned up a WebMD article in the top five when Google and Startpage did not.

Clearly these gatekeepers rate information from these sources very highly, but can they be trusted? The Mayo Clinic receives $336.7 million in funding per year from federal and state governments, and $114.6 million from industry. It is no surprise, then, that much of the content is skeptical, at best, of natural medicine.

As we reported previously, WebMD is reliable—in that they can be relied upon to sell drugs. WebMD was caught in 2010 providing users with a fake quiz meant to screen for depression in which 100% of respondents ended up having a “high likelihood of major depression” and were directed to talk to their physician about treatment. The quiz was sponsored by Eli Lilly, which makes the depression drug Cymbalta. A search through WebMD’s pages on depression shows that they contain ads for antidepressant drugs.

The results for the “natural cold remedies” search are instructive. The top result in Google was the Mayo Clinic, and another top result was WebMD. The Mayo Clinic’s page on home remedies for the cold doesn’t recommend any supplements; it does, however, recommend Tylenol, Advil, or other pain killers, and other over-the-counter drugs. This is natural medicine? WebMD was much the same in that it didn’t recommend any supplements, though it did recommend some foods to eat with a cold. Bing and DuckDuckGo also had WebMD and Mayo Clinic in their top five searches, but Bing displayed an article from Dr. Mercola, a trusted source of natural health information.

The search for “vitamin D flu” on Bing and DuckDuckGo resulted in a Mercola article and an article from Dr. Andrew Weil, another important voice in the natural health sphere, in the top 5. Neither Dr. Weil nor Dr. Mercola showed up in Google or Startpage’s top five.

For searches on “fluoride safety,” “GMO safety,” and “5G safety,” the overwhelming majority of the top five results were articles defending the safety of fluoride, GMOs, and 5G. All top five results defended the safety of fluoride and GMOs for Google and Startpage, for example.

These results have the fingerprints of Google’s “quality raters” all over them. Recall that Google is now manually lowering the rankings of undesirable content with the help of third party “quality raters.” These quality raters visit websites and, as their name suggests, evaluate the quality of a website. Raters then send this information to Google engineers who update their algorithm to throttle content that is deemed of low quality. Sites that question conventional wisdom seem to be relegated in Google searches more than others. This helps explain why a search for “natural cold remedies” gives us websites that recommend anything but real natural health advice.

Consider that, of these searches, Dr. Mercola came up only three times out of 24 searches (eight search terms on three search engines): in Bing’s results for natural cold remedies, and Bing and DuckDuckGo’s results for vitamin D and the flu. This is by no means the only measure, but it is an important measure as to how seriously search engines are taking trusted, credible natural health sites.

Gatekeepers like Google might like us to think that using their search engine puts the information of the Internet at our fingertips, but this is an empty promise. With the use of “quality raters”—quite an Orwellian term—Google is curating content and undermining the democratic nature of the Internet. It means that those who challenge established medical orthodoxies can effectively be silenced. It will be much, much harder to educate the public about important scientific information relating to our health. It means that monopolistic organizations like Google have a stranglehold on what information can reach the public and what gets buried. It is far too much power for a handful of executives at Google, Facebook, Pinterest, and other sites to wield.

We must oppose this censorship.

Action Alert! Write to Congress and tell them to tackle Internet censorship! Please send your message immediately.

32 responses to “What’s the Score on Censorship?”

  1. Raymond Porter says:

    way too much censorship

  2. Judith Casale says:

    I am opposed to Internet censorship and asking the Alliance for Natural Health USA to help us all regarding this serious matter.

  3. Andrew D Lane says:

    This is so blaringly obvious

  4. Shawn Chriest says:

    The natural medicine side of health is and has been invaluable for millions! We need access to all information and research so to determine what is best for our health. Allopathic medicine is just another avenue for those that choose it! We have the right to see the other side!

  5. San Diego Boomer Lady says:

    While DuckDuckGo isn’t perfect, I use it exclusively to search because holistic and organic sites are shown in the first screen, whether within the first 5 or the first 10 sites, which is certainly far better than Google and Bing.

  6. Ray Ellis says:

    A few years ago my website, SaveYourHeart.com, was #1 on Google and my business was booming (I sell a nutritional formula that reverses the growth of plaque in arteries). Then Google changed the algorithm and I found my site on page 17! Too bad for my potential customers who have atherosclerosis.

  7. Justin Folts says:

    Google should be broken up as a monopoly and their searches and YouTube be regulated as a public utility. Google is evil.

  8. Darlene Ashley says:

    I’ve been using DuckDuckGo for years now. Don’t trust Google.

  9. Pamela E. Williford says:

    Why. are government and the large search engines promoting allopathic medicine and large corporation products that are harmful to us. I would at least expect them to share the other side of the health story in their search results. People are catching on to the deception and it won’t be pretty when the backlash becomes obvious.

  10. John Burnley says:

    So, guys, how about a search for vitamin C + coronavirus? Or is that topic too hot for you to handle? Leave it to Andrew Saul to take it on – thankfully we have Dr. Saul. I mean you are on the right track but why leave that search out?

    As far as vitamin D3 – that stops viruses even faster than C, but you have to be willing to use a lot of it.

  11. Larry Anderson says:

    We need to stop this. You need to take these companies to task. We want the truth not censorship.

  12. Audrey Morgan says:

    LEAVE OUR CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO FREE SPEECH ALONE !!!!

    THANK YOU !!!!

  13. Nancy A Bender says:

    Information should not be censored by any company out there. All information should be available no matter the content.

  14. Owatica says:

    In addition to the frightening censorship in search engines, a tremendous amount of content is simply being deleted. For instance, the DOD tasked the Threat Assessment Agency to test Colloidal Silver nano particles against Ebola. The Agency proved CS could neutralize Ebola and all the hemorrhagic viruses. That PDF has now been removed from the net. I am very glad I downloaded a great deal of content; including that PDF, before it was gone.

    Moreover, whenever a “natural medicine” site such as GreenMed and many others, send me links, I immediately run into a window saying “This site is not safe” and you need to go to “advanced search” and then go forward despite the “back to safety” warning on the interfering window. In my own email program, subscription sites that provide me with information are bannered as “scam” or “junk” although, for the moment, I am “allowed” to ignore the “warning” and go to the site.

  15. Ms. Linda A. Heath says:

    The US public deserves to have access to all information available about any particular topic, without running the risk of having said information censored. Congress MUST address Internet censorship NOW!

  16. Erik P Stark says:

    Gatekeepers are Anti-information, Anti-First Amendment, and Anti-Democratic.

    Who decides what is “best” for the public to see in a search engine. Giant Corporations? Evidently so, because that’s the system we currently have. Hello. Orwell is knocking.

  17. John S. Sonin says:

    With Corona-V, a completely free internet is all we have to maintain our Union…Keep it ‘unthrottled’!

  18. Jessica Rollins says:

    Tackle Internet censorship!

  19. Tim Cannon says:

    Let it be known ‘money talks bs walks’ this is half true.

  20. Kathi R. says:

    For myself, conventional medicine is nothing but a made for profit corporate American business machine. The majority of this business has no concern for my health and wellness. They believe in the perpetuation of my continuous care.

    After all, continuous care is a superb business model. It perpetuates the continual increasing profits which align their pockets.

    So when I take the time and make the effort to attempt a Google Search for a natural, homemade, holistic etc. search, I expect to receive just that. I DO NOT expect to receive a long list of search results from a long list of websites or medical professionals which have absolutely nothing to do with this type of forum that I am anticipating results from.

    Anyone which lays claim to the ideas of conventional medicine alone is not getting the full spectrum of results which are available to the general population.

    Stop this continual bias which has become so prevalent on this machine and give us the search results we have asked for. When I want the search results for conventional medicine… well, guess what, I’ll ask for it?

  21. Robin Patten says:

    The American public deserves the truth.

  22. Galin Pheylan says:

    It is imperative to break up Google, Facebook, and others like them, ability to control what society at large wants to research, especially when concerning health and healing. We can not allow their like to tell us what and who to believe, what to buy, or what to, or not, put in our bodies. What they want to do with their own bodies is their choice, what the rest of society chooses with their own bodies is our choice.

  23. Andy Flores says:

    The Internet should not be censored by the likes of google. They censor for their own corporate payoffs instead of promoting public interest

  24. Mary Boles says:

    Please stop search engines from restricting and censoring information about alternative health products and services. I personally don’t want to read anything from WebMD or the Mayo Clinic when it comes to natural health alternatives, as they have vested interests in pharmaceuticals.

  25. Angel says:

    My Grandfather lived off the land and grazed his sheep without any interference from drug companies or the AMA. He lived 89 years and kept his wives (1st and 2nd) and children in good health. This is because he was also a trained herbalist and new a lot about nutrition. His healthy lifestyle is being deleted by the big search engines like google, bing and others. All search engines should lead us to the sources we request. They should not give Web MD, Mayo CLinic and others predominance over smaller but more knowledgeable websites, especially when we request information that only smaller alternative healing websites can give us. Please stop google, bing, and others from only presenting or dominating our searches with conventional, big pharm, drug companies. Thank You

  26. Especially with the CoVid-19 virus going around these days, people are tragically not being advised about natural treatments to boost one’s immune system in a preventive way, and just being left to wait for a vaccine, which can be over one year away (and then may well not be effective, with the virus going through mutations all the time). That is not a common-sense situation, especially when there are a number of things that people can do to accomplish that boost. This censorship business is a tragedy of major proportions. It must be stopped. Thanks to ANH for doing all that you can to bring this better state of affairs about.

  27. diane johnson says:

    We dont like hearing only what the controllers want us to hear!

  28. DR J MASTRO says:

    MORE OF THE SAME B.S.

  29. Mr. Marcel Liberge says:

    It’s no surprise that big pharma, the GREEDY, HEARTLESS, PREMEDITATED MURDERERS control and manipulate the message!

  30. We have an online natural health where we sale supplements , water purifying systems and do health consultations. Our per day count of people coming to our website from a search went from 100 per day to 0 in the last year.

    We are a small family owned company and we do not have the Huge bankroll as the big names in natural health so we are facing closing down.

    Yes google and facebook is hurting Real people with their censorship. Only about 1 to 2 % of our posts on facebook get seen and to find us on an google search , you have to type us in directly not the products or manufacture`s we carry.

  31. Betty R says:

    Don’t use google. Check out ixquick.com. They do not track you and they do not censor content. You are able to set time limits on searches. I do medical research and have found no limits on alternative and natural cures. I found that duckduck.go returns too much unrelated junk.

    • Ann says:

      Hi, Betty R, You might want to think about ixquick.com, as it’s a part of StartPage. I used it for years and found out it was recently bought by an aggressive online marketing company, which, like Google, depends on surveillance.”

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