Not the ‘fair and balanced arbiter of facts’ it claims to be

Art Moore

A study of Google search results of politically charged words found that despite the tech giant’s claim to be “a fair and balanced arbiter of facts,” the searches were 40 percent more likely to produce material that leans either to the “left” or the “far left” rather than the “right.”

The researchers for CanIRank concluded Google’s “ranking algorithms aren’t designed to provide a fairly balanced or completely honest representation of controversial issues.”

To assess how fairly search engine results portray political candidates and controversial issues, the study collected more than 1,200 URLs ranking highly in for politically charged keywords such as “gun control,” “abortion” and “Black Lives Matter.”

To assess the “political slant,” the researchers used politically active individuals from both the left and right as well as special software.

Along with finding 40 percent of search results are more likely to lean left, 16 percent of political keywords contained no right-leaning pages at all within the first page of results.

The analysis concluded “factors within the Google algorithm itself may make it easier for sites with a left-leaning or centrist viewpoint to rank higher in Google search results compared to sites with a politically conservative viewpoint.”

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President Trump waded into the issue Tuesday, accusing Google of altering search results against him and conservative voices and vowing that the issue “will be addressed.”

“Google search results for ‘Trump News’ shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake New Media,” the president said.

“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.”

Trump added: “Illegal? 96% of … results on ‘Trump News’ are from National Left-Wing Media, very dangerous. Google & others are suppressing voices of Conservatives and hiding information and news that is good. They are controlling what we can & cannot see. This is a very serious situation-will be addressed!”

Later Tuesday, Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow was asked by reporters whether or not the White House was considering pursuing some kind of government regulation of Google.

Kudlow replied: “We’ll let you know. We’re taking a look at it. We’ll let you know.”

Search results can impact elections

The CanIRank study found that a search of “Republican platform” turned up only the official text of the platform and seven left-leaning results highly critical of it, with zero results in support.

No right-leaning websites were found among the top results of searches on words such as “minimum wage,” “abortion,” NAFTA,” “Iraq war,” “campaign finance reform,” “global warming” and “marijuana legalization.”

CanIRank pointed out the influence of search engine results on elections.

During the 2012 election cycle, a survey of persuadable voters indicated 49 percent get their news about campaigns and the election online, largely through search engines such as Google.

The surveys found voters largely trust the results, and the top search results are broadly perceived as being the most accurate and authoritative.

The first five search results accounted for an estimated 67 percent of all clicks, and the first three results alone accounting for more than 55 percent.

A 2015 study by Robert Epstein and Ronald Robertson concluded that the order of search results can have a big impact on voter behavior

In the event of a close election, they found, the effect could even determine the outcome.

CanIRank commented that the control of the flow of information by a single private company “is unprecedented in a country historically characterized by pluralistic and ideologically diverse media.”

“This trend is particularly troubling when one considers that the employees of this private company do not reflect the ideological diversity of the country at large, and have consistently been amongst the largest donors to Democratic party candidates.”