A study of Google search results of politically charged words found that despite the tech giant’s claim to be free of bias, the searches were 40 percent more likely to produce material that leans either to the “left” or the “far left” rather than the “right.”
To assess how fairly search engine results portray political candidates and controversial issues, the study collected more than 1,200 URLs ranking highly in Google.com 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 that search results are 40 percent 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.”
CanIRank, which produces SEO (search engine optimization) software for websites, commented that while Google “would like to portray itself as a fair and balanced arbiter of facts — a role it has recently tried to strengthen with the launch of a fact checking mechanism — searchers should be aware that ranking algorithms don’t currently incorporate an assessment of political bias or even factual accuracy.”
“No attempt is made to present multiple viewpoints on controversial political issues, and the algorithm in its current form does not return results equally distributed across the entire political spectrum.”
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Trump: Google ‘rigged’
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.”
Google responded Tuesday to Trump’s tweets with a statement insisting there is no “political agenda” or “bias” in its search results.
“When users type queries into the Google Search bar, our goal is to make sure they receive the most relevant answers in a matter of seconds,” the company statement said. “Search is not used to set a political agenda and we don’t bias our results toward any political ideology. Every year, we issue hundreds of improvements to our algorithms to ensure they surface high-quality content in response to users’ queries. We continually work to improve Google Search and we never rank search results to manipulate political sentiment.”
Search results can impact elections
However, 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.”