Google’s Top Result for Changing the U.S. Constitution Is Quite a Surprise

Preamble to American Constitution
Photograph by Tetra Images—Getty Images

The recent success of Republicans in state legislatures has renewed interest in a topic that has long been dormant in U.S. politics: how to change the Constitution to rewrite basic rules about how the country is governed.

That’s why many people will be surprised to see an article from Breitbart, a partisan right-wing news outlet, featured prominently atop Google’s (GOOG) search results for “Article V”—which is the part of the Constitution that describes how the document can be amended.

Law professor James Grimmelmann called attention to the Google result on Twitter over the weekend and included a screenshot of what he saw. Here’s the tweet:

The text shown in the Google result, taken from Breitbart article, is not controversial since it faithfully produces the part of the Constitution that explains the two ways lawmakers can make an amendment.

But the inclusion of the article itself, including its headline of “An Emergency Solution, Hidden in Plain Sight,” in the primary search result is a surprising move on the part of Google.

Unlike an encyclopedia entry or even a standard news article, the Breitbart article is not just an explanation of Article V. Instead, it’s a partisan call to join a movement to amend the Constitution through a never-used method that involves a constitutional convention called by two-thirds of the states. (The other amendment method, used 17 times since the passing of the Bill of Rights, originates in the House and Senate).

Since the election there has been renewed in the constitutional convention process—some Republicans see it as an opportunity to permanently advance their agenda, while some Democrats have expressed fear over this possibility.

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But no matter how one views the prospect of a constitutional convention (which for now appears unlikely), it is a curious action by Google to present a partisan article as its top information source. While the search result above is technically what Google calls a “featured snippet,” it’s still the first thing a user sees, and its placement will drive many people to the Breitbart article.

Google did not immediately respond to a request for a comment about the placement of the Breitbart article.

Grimmelmann’s tweet comes at a time when both Google and Facebook (FB) are under scrutiny over how their platforms can shape news and political opinions. Google, for instance, was criticized for displaying a fake news site as its top result for “final election numbers” while some say a glut of fake news on Facebook helped to elect Donald Trump.

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