As I sat down to write this article, I cleared my cache, search history, cookies, etc. and restarted my computer.
I then went to Google and typed in the query “google bias.”
The top results recommended to me were a thoroughly pro-Google article from the BBC, a neutral just-the-facts article from MarketWatch, a website affiliated with the sorta, kinda, are they really? conservative Wall Street Journal, and a tepid, uninformative piece from Deadline Hollywood.
Two of the three top videos recommended were from CNN and a third from liberal “mainstream” news site Bloomberg.
Page two of the search revealed a Tech Crunch article with the headline “Trump rage-tweets Google alleging search ‘bias,'” articles from ABC News and the Hollywood Reporter, and an article from the University of California, Davis website titled “Google faulted for racial bias in image search results for black teenagers.”
Pages three and four were more of the same, featuring articles from the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian and The Daily Beast, among other firmly left-leaning publications.
There was one lone link to a pro-life site, LifeSiteNews.com, that listed the site’s articles on the query “Google Bias.”
It wasn’t until I got to page five of my search that conservative news sites such as Fox News, the Washington Times, and the Washington Examiner showed up.
Amping Up the Bias
One search doesn’t prove anything? Maybe.
But as a professional journalist who has used Google for 15+ years to search for information for articles I’ve written or to fact-check articles I’ve edited, I can tell you I have never had a more difficult time wading through the overtly liberal and left-leaning “mainstream journalism” material to find conservative sources on the search engine.
President Trump in a series of tweets on Aug. 28 called out Google for biased search results, stating that “96% of results on ‘Trump News’ are from National Left-Wing Media, very dangerous.”
Google search results for “Trump News” shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake News Media. In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD. Fake CNN is prominent. Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out. Illegal? 96% of….
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 28, 2018
The 96% statistic refers to an article by PJ Media’s Paula Bolyard.
Bolyard performed a search for “Trump” in Google’s news section. She writes:
“I expected to see some skewing of the results based on my extensive experience with Google, but I was not prepared for the blatant prioritization of left-leaning and anti-Trump media outlets. Looking at the first page of search results, I discovered that CNN was the big winner, scoring two of the first ten results. Other left-leaning sites that appeared on the first page were CBS, The Atlantic, CNBC, The New Yorker, Politico, Reuters, and USA Today (the last two outlets on this list could arguably be considered more centrist than the others).
Not a single right-leaning site appeared on the first page of search results.
Power to Destroy
A very thorough 2016 article by Dr. Robert Epstein, Senior Research Psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology, for U.S. News & World Report, detailed just how powerful a weapon Google’s censorship endeavors can be.
“When Google’s employees or algorithms decide to block our access to information about a news item, political candidate or business, opinions and votes can shift, reputations can be ruined and businesses can crash and burn,” Epstein writes.
“Because online censorship is entirely unregulated at the moment, victims have little or no recourse when they have been harmed.”
Epstein lists nine different ways in which Google censors the Internet.
Regarding Google News blacklisting, Epstein presents an apt metaphor for the search engine giant’s role on the Internet today:
“If a librarian were caught trashing all the liberal newspapers before people could read them, he or she might get in a heap o’ trouble. What happens when most of the librarians in the world have been replaced by a single company? Google is now the largest news aggregator in the world, tracking tens of thousands of news sources in more than thirty languages and recently adding thousands of small, local news sources to its inventory. It also selectively bans news sources as it pleases.
What’s at Stake
In her PJ Media article, Bolyard illustrates just how devastating a Google algorithm change can be for a conservative publication.
“PJ Media’s Google search traffic, for example, dropped precipitously after a May 2017 algorithm change, Bolyard writes. “We have yet to recover the lost traffic. Other conservative sites have reported similar drops in traffic.”
“They are controlling what we can & cannot see,” Trump tweeted. “This is a very serious situation-will be addressed!”
Dr. Epstein agrees with the president, and warns of the dire consequences that will follow if corrections are not made.
“Eventually, authorities will almost certainly have to step in, just as they did when credit bureaus were regulated in 1970,” Epstein wrote in his 2016 article.
“The alternative would be to allow a large corporation to wield an especially destructive kind of power that should be exercised with great restraint and should belong only to the public: the power to shame or exclude.”