In late August, conservative site PJ Media did an informal study of Google News search results and found that the world’s most popular search engine is astonishingly biased towards left-wing news outlets. The story (predictably enough) got very little play in the mainstream media. Those news organizations that bothered to take notice only did so after President Trump tweeted indirectly about the findings.
“Google search results for ‘Trump News’ shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake News Media,” Trump wrote on August 28. “In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD.”
Those reporters who deigned to take a look at PJ Media’s study dismissed it out of hand, claiming that the authors merely labeled every site that wasn’t expressly conservative as a “left-wing” source, thus nullifying their argument. These are writers who would not dream of accusing an institution like The New York Times or CNN of having a liberal bias.
In any event, media technology group AllSides apparently thought PJ Media might have been on to something, because they decided to do a two-week analysis of Google’s search results. Their findings? That news outlets with a “left” bias were featured far more prominently than those with a conservative or neutral take on the day’s events.
Of course, they insist that this is not intentional on Google’s part, but merely the way the cookie crumbles.
“If you look at where people get news online and you rate it, most of it is coming from the left,” said AllSides CEO John Gable. He told USA Today that Google relies mostly on a “popularity algorithm” to rank news outlets, and since Americans prefer left-wing news, those sites are naturally going to float to the top.
“If their role is just to reflect the internet, they’re doing a fine job,” he said.
Here’s the thing, though. We’re long past the point where Google can sit back and simply consider itself a neutral search engine, “reflecting” back the natural popularity rankings of the internet. (Besides, given FoxNews.com’s Alexa rating and their comparative ranking in Google’s results, we have to question whether that’s actually what they’re doing in the first place.)
But even conceding the possibility that they are, it misses the fact that Google largely determines said popularity in the first place. Facebook plays a major role in spreading stories around, as does Reddit and other aggregators. But at the end of the day, millions of Americans are simply typing queries into their Google machine and clicking on whatever comes up. If those are left-wing news sources, Google is doing more than reflecting popularity; they are creating it and perpetuating it.
This situation calls for a more hands-on approach by Google’s search team, but there’s no indication that they are motivated to change.