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Are search engines biased? To answer that question, we need to understand two things: How search engines work and who’s behind the way they work.
As far as how they work, let’s focus on Google. It’s the largest search engine by a long shot with more people using it than many times all the other search engines combined. It’s algorithm is either simple or complex, depending on how deeply we dig into it. On the simple surface, Google’s search algorithm utilizes multiple factors to determine the credibility, popularity, and accuracy of a particular piece of content to determine where it ranks for the keywords it’s associated with. So when we search for “Republican Party” we see the top section that is informational, often pulled from one or more sources. Then we see the “organic” search results with GOP.com at the top followed by Wikipedia and Ballotpedia. From there, the results vary for people based on their location and search history. I’m in California right now, so the California GOP appears on my first page results.
When we dig deeper, it gets much more complex. This is where the ideology of the people involved, from the very top of the food chain down to individual programmers, has an impact. Sources are scored based on their credibility. Their credibility is determined by factors that are often arbitrary. Most are not; a website that is linked to by many other sources is given high credibility based on these links. But the factors that include human intervention is where some of the ideologies are allowed to slip in. For example, a site like Breitbart which is considered right wing and has plenty of mechanical credibility based on its popularity, social sharing, and inbound links will often rank lower for search terms than Slate even though the latter has less tangible credibility than Breitbart. Why? Because of those arbitrary factors I mentioned above.
The other two major ways search engines are able to display their bias is through their homepage information and search term recommendations. We covered the former in an article titled, “Despite Google’s claims they don’t favor ideologies, there’s an omission they must address.” We then gave an example of the latter in an article about “Hillary Clinton Email” scandal.
The folks over at Truthstream Media put together an interesting video about the topic yesterday. There’s one correction that should be made in their example about searches for “BDS Movement” that needs mentioning. They noted an ad at the top of the search for an anti-BDS site. This is an ad and has nothing to do with Google’s bias. Google is very favorable to the BDS movement and has done what they can to shift the search results in their favor by hiding clear instances of lunacy by the movement while highlighting all of their “good” actions. The ad mentioned in the video was simply paid for by those fighting the movement. This was not a good example of Google’s bias, though the rest of the video is fine.
It’s funny that as Google tries to debunk conspiracy theories, they included “search engine bias” as one of the conspiracy theories they’re debunking. As Truthstream points out, this is hypocritical to the extreme.
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