back to article Google is the EU Remain campaign's secret weapon

Google has demoted the site EU Referendum to “below the fold” in searches for the term “EU referendum”, where it isn’t visible to most web surfers unless they scroll down. The political site, which was founded by author and researcher Richard A.E. North in 2004, was the top search result for the topical expression across all …

  1. djstardust

    Must be copying the code

    From the BBC website.

    It has the be the most biased pro remain campaign in the universe.

    Nuff said.

    1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

      Re: djstardust Re: Must be copying the code

      "From the BBC website...." The BBC has previous form what with their overwhelmingly pro-global-warming bias.

      1. andrewj

        Re: djstardust Must be copying the code

        Yes they do tend to be distressingly pro-fact for blowhards.

        1. TeeCee Gold badge

          Re: djstardust Must be copying the code


          They're pro-whateverstrendyinthegrauniadrightnow.

          If they ever hire an actual journalist, rather than someone who knows cut-n-paste and has a bookmarks folder full of "right-on" websites, the world will probably end.

    2. phuzz Silver badge
      Big Brother

      Re: Must be copying the code

      It's always fun watching people on both sides of every debate accuse the BBC of bias against whatever their preferred viewpoint is.

      If they're pissing off both sides for opposite reasons then they're doing ok in my book ;)

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Only Hyperconverged DevOps can save us now!

    1. d3rrial

      Why AC? This was brilliant!

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Obama and Americans in general F off. This is our pointless referendum.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      If it's pointless, then why do you care if we manipulate you?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What a Slurprise...

    Googhoul will blame it on their Bots / AI... TV shows like 'Person of Interest' with ASI manipulating every aspect of people's lives, is not that far fetched anymore...

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hopefully Brexit...

    * The UK isn't interested in the European project (practical reason).

    * Its best for Britain, especially if the UK overtakes Germany to become #1 economy (economic reason).

    * I want Ireland out of CTA and into Schengen, which will never happen unless the UK breaks away (personal reason).

    * But it wont happen. There's too many negative campaigns warning of a looming holocaust. Just like the Scottish vote there is interest, but its not enough versus people's 'fear of change'...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hopefully Brexit...

      I can't believe that I couldn't find anyone using an anti-brexit slogan like "Brexit breaks it".

      The smear campaigns practically write themselves with a name like Brexit...

      Not that I want the UK to leave the EU, first they join the EU and act as the extension of USA's penis to fuck up / veto many important EU decisions. And now that they've pretty much broken the EU, the UK just wants to leave the sinking ship? Na-uh, you're going down with us!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Hopefully Brexit...


        first they join the EU

        No they did NOT join the EU they voted to join a non political Common Market. It was only after that that Germany and France pushed for, and showed, the political leftist dominance that they both wanted. Unfortunately the left in the UK were quite happy to go along with that which brings us to the mess the UK is in today.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Hopefully Brexit...

          Actually, the original plans involved complete financial integration, however, it was the French, still wary of the Germans trying to take them over, that diluted the original plans they were building.

          Complete financial union was definitely an original part of the idea behind it, and it was originally proposed by the French, before they changed their minds. The Germans were always wanting to be a part of it to try and recover financially from the penalties of the war, and accepted either idea, although they initially preferred financial union.

        2. Indolent Wretch

          Re: Hopefully Brexit...

          Those pictures you see on the net by the way, that's the arch communist Thatcher cheering our entry.

        3. Vic

          Re: Hopefully Brexit...

          No they did NOT join the EU

          Yes, we did. We signed the Maastricht Treaty in 1992.

          they voted to join a non political Common Market.

          Ah - yes, the populace only ever agreed to join the EEC - but since when did the UK Government do what its people want?


    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hopefully Brexit...

      especially if the UK overtakes Germany to become #1 economy

      Not going to happen. Not only will the Germans have a MUCH larger market to sell into thanks to the EU, but they also didn't make the mistake British governments have made to move to a mainly service based industry. UK's engineering ingenuity was pretty much the best in the world until someone decided that it was more beneficial to a few to focus on money laundering banking.

      Just try to find a plumber who knows what he's doing - those who do are either foreign or unaffordable..

      1. Indolent Wretch

        Re: Hopefully Brexit...

        Well unfortunately if the Brexitters get their wish soon they will just be unaffordable.

      2. Catweazle666

        Re: Hopefully Brexit...

        Rubbish, you've been taken in by the propaganda. British industry - even after the destruction wrought to our steel and aluminium producers by the EU climate regulations BS - is still the sixth largest on Earth, particularly in pharmaceuticals, aerospace and armaments. Further, as to our engineering excellence, even Germany pays us to build their Formula one cars.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Hopefully Brexit...

          The additional climate costs on the steel industry by any carbon tax (and its only a couple of percent or less I think if you look at the analysis) are dwarfed by lack of investment and cheaper imports - (tarriffs on imports to the EU were blocked by those arch europhiles the UK government.....). If you think that by leaving the EU, investment will not shift to large companies other EU plants, you may well be in for an unpleasant surprise. As far as engineering excellence is concerned yes we have some but have you noticed where virtually all our trains are built these days (a clue its not the UK). The same goes for shipping. The one person I know who really knows economics and markets (i.e. a professor in said subject) says that from an economic point of view the brexit plans don't really make sense (even IDS on the radio the other morning tacitly admitted that if there was an economic downturn it was a price worth paying......). But yes by all means vote brexit - but you may live to regret it.

        2. Mage


          That would be all the sales to countries on the UK's OWN list of evil regimes.

          Most of the non-military Aerospace is European contracts, government "pork barrel" support of UK companies involved in Electronics from 1950s onwards helped destroy the UK consumer Electronics industry and make UK electronics and semiconductors uncompetitive.

          Steel and coal production weren't profitable probably from before 1914, but became strategic. There is a good reason why they were nationalised.

          Take out Oil, dishonest Financial Services, immoral arms sales what is left?

      3. Mage

        Re: Hopefully Brexit...

        Germany has more real economy, While it's true that Nigeria and Afghanistan have a corruption issue, the UK is the most corrupt in the world courtesy of The City Of London / Financial services who are parasites. Too much of Britain's GDP comes from their money laundering and speculation and currency manipulation, so successive UK governments of all hues never interfere.

        Take out so called "Financial Services" and Scottish oil, then what has UK got compared to Germany?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Hopefully Brexit...

      I think it would be good for Ireland in several ways. It might prove good for Scotland and Northern Ireland if they vote to remain in the EU while letting England and Wales leave. It would probably be good for the Conservative and Unionist Party once there's no Union and the Unionists (both Political and Trade) are left to vote in the former provinces. Ideally the implementation of Brexit would coincide with a change of Monarch so there's a chance to re-define the role and term of office of head of state.

    4. Dimitri

      Re: Hopefully Brexit...

      "Its best for Britain, especially if the UK overtakes Germany to become #1 economy (economic reason)"

      Umm, that cannot and will not happen. Ever. Anyone who has a strong knowledge of economics and state finances will tell you that.

      For the simple fact that Germany's manufacturing capacity outstrips the UK's by a factor of 10. The amount of capital investment required would be enormous, and it is simply not going to be available for the most expensive country in the western world.

      The best chance the UK has outside the EU is to become an offshore banking center, but sadly even that is not likely to have much of an effect since (a) no matter how big the banking sector, it cannot provide enough GDP for 57 million people and (b) offshore banking centers are going the way of the dodo as states put the screws on them to stop tax avoidance.

      Focus more on facts than wishful thinking - the world runs on them.

      1. Matt Bryant Silver badge

        Re: Dimitri Re: Hopefully Brexit...

        "....Germany's manufacturing capacity...." Actually, quite the opposite. Whilst Germany currently has more capacity (but nowhere near ten times as you stated), it is foolish to talk of Germany alone when Germany's future, by EU diktat, means you have to talk about Germany merely as the largest piece of the rest of the EU economy. Whilst Germany shines, countries like Greece drag on the EU economy like a lead-filled albatross. Even more of a problem in EU terms is the situation in France, where the unions are fighting against the deregulations required to allow French companies to compete with Germany. In short, the French unions are fighting to keep a minority employed and well-paid and saying screw the large number of unemployed. The Greeks can improve but it is highly likely the French will not. Germany needs a net immigration of about 100,000 cheap labour per year to remain at the level of competitive performance, so maybe the unemployed French can got to Germany? No, because migrants are flooding in from outside the EU and are a lot cheaper to employ, even if the French unemployed were willing to get off their state benefits and move to Germany for work. Italy is in a similar position to France - competitive only in a narrow range of the economic market, with too many young unemployed. So that's the second and third Euro economies going backwards. So, when you talk about the UK being unable alone to overtake Germany, the truth is we don't have to, we just have to get rid of the yoke of bailing out countries like Greece and then perform better than the EU average (which we already do comfortably), and the Germans will be the ones crippled by being left picking up the bill for the rest of the EU. Those are economic facts.

  6. Pseu Donyme

    "It is vital that people should realise Google's potential (or actual) power." Quite. I don't think Google is actually under an obligation to be evenhanded and changing this would require something quite drastic. One such thing could be having the only permissible business model for search to be fully paid by its end users by micropayments, the idea being that a straightforward buyer-seller market* with competing vendors would keep search providers honest.

    * instead of Google's constellation of interlocking, cross-subsidized markets amounting to the mother of all multi-sided markets (where a viable competitor in the combined market ought somehow to scale multiple barriers of entry at once)

  7. Adam 52 Silver badge

    My top results are:

    HM Government, BBC, The Guardian and About my Vote.

    That seems fair; the government official site, the Electoral Commission and the top two news sites without a paywall. I'd expect all of those to be ranked above a lobbying site from either side.

    Google has also added a "register to vote" link to the homepage.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      So your top results are:

      1 - Pro Remain

      2 - Mostly impartial but partly remain

      3 - Remain

      4 - Impartial

      And that's - 'fair'.

      Well 3 weeks ago googling 'EU Referendum' stuck the site at the absolute top of the page - so something's happened.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It shows up in 7th place in my results for 'EU Referendum' below UK Government, BBC, The Guardian, The Week and The Telegraph which seems about right given they all have much larger readerships (and that website only has an Alexa ranking of ~28,500 in the UK, for example). What's the issue supposed to be exactly?

    1. VinceH
      Black Helicopters

      It's just a silly conspiracy theory.

      The site in question was probably top of the rankings for the term "EU Referendum" in the past because, before Call Me Dave and co decided we could have one, the referendum wasn't in the news much. Now, it is - it's being mentioned left, right and centre, so lots of stuff is competing with that blog for the top rankings.

      (But the point that Google's search results can have an effect on what voters decide is almost certainly valid - and an interesting problem.)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        There is something in what you say, but what about Bing and Yahoo? they still have the blog at #1. That could be because they are not as efficient as Google, but that raises a cogent point. ARE those latecomer sites to the issue really worthy of shooting to the top just because of their large readerships? Should not Google include some sort of damping to the google rank system so that these rank changes happen more gradually? That way a really on-point blog like this one would not always be shoved out in the cold as sssn ans the world notices their cause.

        1. Indolent Wretch

          Re: Fixit

          >> That could be because they are not as efficient as Google

          Yahoo.... "could be" - seriously??

          >> really worthy of shooting to the top just because of their large readerships?

          This is the whole point of google and why it won. They've shot to the top because of the reputation of the website and the reputation of the sites that link to the website.

          I don't want an algorithm saying to itself... "Yes this site is obviously better but I'm going to keep it in 27th place because I have to pretend information has inertia"

        2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Re: Fixit

          Should not Google include some sort of damping to the google rank system…

          Worth pointing out that Google is not a public utility but a private search and advertising company. As such it is largely able to do what the fuck it wants with search results. As long as it is not favouring its own products over competitors…

          PS. Yahoo uses Bing

      2. Ken 16 Silver badge

        Yes, 12 year old site vs recently updated, why rank the new stuff?

        Google shouldn't react to the flood of new content by letting a moribund site drift down in the rankings.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Yes, 12 year old site vs recently updated, why rank the new stuff?

          Nor should Google keep a less-popular site ranked higher purely because the author got in there early on the subject. No matter which way they try to balance it there will be some people unhappy with the outcome, most people ambivalent and a few others will proclaim a massive conspiracy has occurred and the end of the world is nigh.

  9. Come to the Dark Side

    The odd thing is how (given track-record in all things technologically related) the governments website now sits at #1 in rankings.

  10. Nick Kew

    There are many reasons a site might move up or down your google results. Some may be sinister, others realistic, but I don't think any fit both descriptions.

    In the case of a political hot topic, it's almost certainly other sites moving up rather than your favourite moving down. Sites that google users click on and appear to stay on (google can see if you return to its results page and try another link after 30 secs). Sites that other people link to in relevant discussion. Etcetera. They've spent 20 years perfecting the engine to bring up the most relevant and interesting results for the most of their users, and doing constant battle with "SEO" spammers who try to subvert that.

  11. Dan 55 Silver badge

    PageRank, not the global military industrial complex

    More people blog/tweet/face? about the referendum and link to other websites which use the term "EU Referendum" with the effect that those websites rise up the results list and this one falls. Not everyone can be a winner.

  12. tiggity Silver badge

    confirmation bias

    If you feel strongly about a particular "side" in the EU referendum, then human nature for many people is confirmation bias & it's various associated effects to kick in.

    So, someone may feel the BBC website is the most biased thing in the universe, but a dispassionate n examination of the content there would be unlikely to prove that hypothesis.

    Personally, the sooner all this is over the better, both sides are irritating me with their playground level of behaviour.

    1. Indolent Wretch

      Re: confirmation bias

      As a reader both of LabourList and ConservativeHome I can confirm that the majority of people (who post) on both sides of the political spectrum think that the BBC is terribly biased against them. According to the Tories the BBC is full of right on, guardian reading lefties and according to Labour it's run by old-school tie, secret tories constantly championing the right wing.

      The fact that as well as this the remain camp feels the BBC is biased and gives too much weight to cranks and doesn't correct dodgy claims of billions of pounds of phantom savings, and the leave camp feels the BBC is biased and gives too much weight to fear-mongering and official pronouncements of doom should come as no surprise.

      But in a way it's funny that the leave campaign who constantly bang on about loving Britain and doing what's best for Britain and how Britain can be the greatest if there's just less red tape and regulation are the ones most shrill about the BBC, possibly the most well respected British institution in the world, and constantly demand more regulation and rules to control it's behaviour.

      FFIW: Remain Please!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: confirmation bias

        As with any election reporting the target for a news agency is not to avoid accusations of bias but to keep them evenly balanced between the two sides.

        The post election statistics normally show that the BBC managed that task very well.

  13. captain veg Silver badge

    Well, der

    Subject matter moves from status of hypothetical to "we're actually going to vote for it", massive media coverage follows and said coverage then dominates Google search results. I'm shocked, I tell you. Shocked. It's a conspiracy.


  14. Jess

    Evens out the bias from other media

    and even beer mats.

    (It occurs to me that a certain pub chain who specialise in undercutting the prices of others would not be disadvantaged much if the average Brit's spending power was decimated. They would just inherit the customers from more expensive pubs. The end of cheap booze runs would not hurt them either. And if it were a little harder to go to Euro matches in person, then their pubs would be fuller on those match days.)

  15. TeeCee Gold badge

    Google, eh?

    Considering the figures being bandied about that the EU may well screw them for, you'd have thought they'd be anti.

    Unless, of course, those figures are peanuts compared to how much they're winning via the EUs porous corporate tax system........

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Google, eh?

      You may have missed the elephant in the room.

      <tinfoil hat mode>

      Google are terrified that they are on a hiding to nothing and will incur the wrath and multi-billion Euro fines so are instigating and encouraging a UK exit from the EU which might well be the start of the toppling dominoes leading to Google trading in 27 separate broken and dishevelled nations where they can clean up by playing them off against each other with promises of bailing them out of the bog they just landed in.

      </tinfoil hat mode>

      1. Indolent Wretch

        Re: Google, eh?

        And then Phase II begins! Dun-Dun-DAAAAAA!

        Only Boris can save us now!

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Google, eh?

        I see Larry and Serge are in the room today.

        (Note to self. Put the fecking joke or coat icon up for the hard of humour. Fake HTML tags called "tinfoil hat mode" are not parsed by all versions of Human Braintm package.)

  16. Greg J Preece

    OR - and call me crazy here - Google's algorithm favours recent results over old ones, and now we've had a referendum announced the pro-remain news going around has bumped the older (potentially stale?) site down the list?

  17. Tannin

    Nevere mind the length, feel the width

    @Nick Kew "Google can see if you return to its results page and try another link after 30 secs" and uses this to help adjust its rankings - sites people hand around longer on get upranked..

    Now that raises an interesting point. (Slightly off-topic, but this is The Register after all.) Let's assume that Google is quite good at measuring the length of your visits that way (which shouldn't be too difficult). Well, it should work well for people who habitually use only a single browser window and seldom make use of tabs.

    But what about those among us who habitually open most things in new tabs? There are quite a few of us (particularly amongst more technically inclined communites, such as this one) who will typically search on a phrase and then open as many links in background tabs as seems sensible before flipping over to read them or (if they don't have what you want) discard them.

    Google has no way to tell how long we spend on those pages.

    Well, it has lots and lots of ways, starting with their damn analytics webspam. I suppose the question is (a) how extensive and smart is their linking of these different information sources? and (b) should I go out and buy a tin foil hat before asking (a)?

  18. BrianT

    He who pays the piper calls the tune

    Is it such a big secret that if you pay Google then they will put you first?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Black Helicopters

      Re: He who pays the piper calls the tune

      so that might explain why Google is said to be *ahem* adjusting things in favout of remain - I mean they and the EU don't like each other all that much, but money talks. Still, who is funding this, not Cameron, he wouldn't have a clue

  19. RichardPSmith

    Not Google - self-destructed

    North has spent the last few years slinging buckets of slime over all his allies and banning any critical comments. The Remainers, on the other hand, he rarely attacks.

    He is now alone and ignored. He doesn't need any manual intervention from Google: he's flown his site into the ground all on his own.

    Most of his traffic is probably remainers looking for some useful points to attack the leavers with.

  20. Ilmarinen

    It's #5 when I just looked

    I Googled and got:

    Vote Leave site

    News on EU Referendum

    HMG's EU Referendum site

    BBC "All you need to know about the EU Referendum" (1)

    Might be a case of the Striesland effect?

    Whether you are pro or anti Brexit, or undecided, I would recommend that you have a look at Dr North's site. I can imagine that he might be a "difficult" person to work with, but in this largely truth and vision free "campaign" he's one of the few with a handle on the facts and with a developed exit plan of how to leave the EU safely, without the threatened Fear-Uncertainty-Doom, and why the future would be better outside.

    (1) Aunty Beep of course knows best and so has done your thinking for you ;-)

    1. RichardPSmith

      Re: It's #5 when I just looked

      Why would anyone who wants Brexit want more traffic for North's site?

      All he does is slime everyone in the leave camp, day in, day out.

      If Google were really involved here and wanted to help 'remain' they would give him a high ranking so his daily attacks on 'leave' got more publicity.

      I suspect Orlowski's motives in lifting this madman into some publicity: North is not a friend of the 'leave' campaign.

  21. DevDude

    If this is also the case, can it be said that Google is effectively intentionally impacting upon the electoral process in countries globally?

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