Update: Several hours after publication of this piece, Finchem’s website was changed to remove the “noindex” directive that blocked it from Google and other search engines.
But it wasn’t a “deep state algorithm” that was hiding his website in Google search results, as the candidate, Mark Finchem, claimed on social media. Instead, the culprit was the campaign site’s own code.
“There are two possibilities here,” said Will Adler, senior technologist for elections and democracy with the Center for Democracy and Technology. “One is that the Finchem campaign has incorrectly set its site not to be indexed.
“The other is that the campaign purposely set it to not be indexed, so Finchem could falsely blame ‘the algorithm’ for his website not being indexed.”
Reached by phone, Finchem declined to speak but asked Grid to call him back later. He did not answer subsequent calls.
Republican politicians have long argued that major technology companies, especially Google and Facebook, have targeted conservative voices. Those arguments usually depend on cherry-picked data or misunderstood studies, but have nonetheless been championed by party leaders from longtime senators to Trump himself. In Finchem’s case, to change the code on his campaign site, someone would most likely have to commit a deliberate act, said CDT’s Adler.
In the software Finchem’s team appears to be using, “a person would have to click ‘no’ on the option, ‘show in search results,’” Adler said, “which seems like a strange thing to do when you’re running a campaign, frankly.”
Finchem is one of the foremost pitchmen for the pro-Trump “Stop the Steal” movement. From the steps of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to audiences large and small across the country, Finchem has tirelessly promoted the fraudulent trope that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump. Finchem argued that his pledge to investigate election fraud if elected motivated Google to block its billions of search users from finding his campaign website.
“Google & the crooks in California refuse to rank my website in their deep state algorithm,” he tweeted early Wednesday morning, because they “DON’T want me to look at election corruption in Arizona.”
“Please share my website & link to it so that the voters can see it,” he added.
A few hours later, he tweeted another appeal to his 52,000 followers to share the URL of his website, claiming that “Google has deplatformed it off of the search results.” He also posted the appeals to Gettr, a right-wing Twitter alternative run by a former Trump aide. Finchem’s comments were amplified by the Arizona Republican Party and its chair, Kelli Ward. Finchem even retweeted himself.
On Wednesday night, Grid verified that Finchem’s campaign website was, indeed, hidden on search. Searches on Google for Finchem’s name, or the name of his website, failed to yield Finchem’s campaign site among the site’s returns. The only way to reach his website was to link directly from the URL.
Given Finchem’s extensive activity on the internet at large, it would be expected that his campaign would be a top search result. And Google surfaced plenty of Finchem’s stop-the-steal rhetoric: his tweets, news coverage, C-SPAN archive and Facebook page, among other content.
Grid confirmed that Finchem’s site was coded to explicitly direct Google and other search engines not to index it.
A spokesperson for Google denied Finchem’s allegations.
“The webmaster for this site has instructed Google and other search engines not to include the site’s homepage in our search results by using a ‘noindex’ directive,” the spokesman said in an email to Grid. “If a site wishes to appear in search results, they can remove the ‘noindex’ directive.”
Archived copies of the site indicate the “noindex” code was inserted in Finchem’s site between mid-July and Aug. 1. Earlier snapshots of the site don’t include the command.
In addition to criticizing Google’s search engine, Finchem also blames “Marxists” for his loss of followers on social media.
CDT’s Adler found the whole scenario in keeping with Finchem’s politics. “Finchem has built his campaign on bogus claims of election corruption,” Adler said. “It’ s not too surprising that he would also make the bogus claim that his bogus claims are being censored.”
Teresa Mariano and Steve Reilly contributed to this article. Thanks to Dave Tepps for copy editing this article.