Noting that Google’s search algorithm is “perhaps the most powerful mediator of online attention to news,” a team of university scholars conducted an audit that found just 20 news sources account for more than half of article impressions, and most lean left.
The top 20 percent of sources — 136 of 678 sampled — accounted for 86 percent of article impressions.
And the top three accounted for 23 percent: CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post, according to Assistant Professor Nicholas Diakopoulos and his team at the Computational Journalism Lab at Northwestern,
In an article for Columbia Journalism Review, he wrote that “for all the influence Google has in directing attention, we know painfully little about how its algorithm selects and curates news.”
“Which sites does it direct traffic toward? And how does Google’s news curation impact the diversity of information found?” he asked.
The audit examined Google Top Stories in terms of ideological lean, based on the self-reported political affiliation of Facebook users sharing content from those sources.
The team’s data showed that 62.4 percent of article impressions were from sources rated as left-leaning. Just 11.3 percent were from sources rated as right-leaning.
“These statistics underscore the degree of concentration of attention to a relatively narrow slice of news sources,” Diakopoulos wrote.
The author of the forthcoming book “Automating the News: How Algorithms are Rewriting the Media,” Diakopoulos pointed out that “prior research has shown that search engines can affect users’ attitudes, shape opinions, alter perceptions and reinforce stereotypes, as well as affect how voters come to be informed during elections.”
“As such, media diversity is an important aspect to the way that Google — or any news aggregator — curates sources and perspectives,” he said.
One factor to consider in terms of ideological lean, he acknowledged, is that there simply are more articles produced by left-leaning sources.
But while a search of the Global Database of Events, Language, and Tone (GDELT) database of news articles found 2.2 times as many articles from left-leaning sources as right-leaning sources, in Google Top Stories, the ratio was 3.2.
That indicated, wrote Diakopoulos “that the curation algorithm was slightly magnifying the left-leaning skew in comparison to the GDELT baseline.”
Ultimately, he acknowledged his audit cannot show for certain why some sources dominate on Google.
Some may do a better job at SEO, or search engine optimization.
“Or there may be a number of other factors taken into account by Google’s algorithm that end up prioritizing certain outlets over others,” he wrote. “We just don’t know unless Google is more transparent with the editorial design and goals of news curation in the Top Stories box.”
“What we do know is that Google’s algorithmic curation of news in search converts to real and substantial amounts of user attention and traffic.”
In April, a newly obtained document showed Google maintains a “news blacklist” and manipulates its search results manually, contrary to the company’s official denials.
WND reported in March a Google manager allegedly responded to an employee who questioned the company’s war on “fake news” by arguing that fake news and “hate speech” had to be stopped, because “that’s how Trump won.”
In November, the Daily Caller reported Google employees debated whether to bury the reporting of conservative media outlets in the company’s search function in response to Trump’s election. Employees similarly sought to manipulate search results to combat Trump’s travel ban, the communications showed.
In an interview with WND at the time, Robert Epstein – who was famed behavioral psychologist B.F. Skinner’s last Ph.D. student at Harvard – said Google’s effort to defeat Trump confirms his extensive, peer-reviewed research over the past half decade.
“Not only does Google have the power to shift votes and opinions on a massive scale, they actually use that power,” Epstein said.
During the 2016 election campaign, Epstein concluded that Google heavily biased results in favor of Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, possibly shifting as many as 3 million votes.
A video leaked in September showed Google executives at their first weekly meeting after Trump’s election exhibiting panic and dismay while expressing their determination to thwart the new administration’s agenda as well as the emerging global populist movement.