The more I investigate Google’s glaring bias, the more I learn. I had been thinking that the reason search results ignore conservative news sources was algorithmic. But it turns out to be human.

My source is an interesting new study from the Economist, which claims to prove that there is no such bias. What it actually does is explain the root nature of the bias, as well as its origin. Their report bears the silly title “Google rewards reputable reporting not left wing politics“. It is silly because their “reputable reporting” means left wing reporting.

It turns out that Google has 10,000 or so humans whose job is to rate news sources for credibility and trustworthiness. These ratings then drive the search algorithm. Given Google’s adamant left wing politics, it is likely that few to none of these people are conservatives. If they are all liberals it is no surprise that they rank liberal news sources a lot higher than conservative sources. Their bias explains the biased search results.

The Economist study even explains the specific nature of the bias. What they did was what in artificial intelligence is called knowledge engineering. This means developing a mathematical model, an algorithm, that captures human reasoning in a given situation. I have done some of this, especially in the area of chemical plant design.

As an historical aside, knowledge engineering was pioneered in part by Carnegie Melon’s Richard Cyert, whom I worked closely with when I was on the CMU faculty. By that time Cyert was President of CMU. Cyert and James March successful modeled the way dresses were priced in a major Pittsburgh department store and knowledge engineering was born.

So the Economist successfully modeled the thinking of Google’s news source ranking people. What they found was that these folks do not consider conservative sources to be credible or trustworthy. This is no surprise if the rankers are all left wingers, which they must be given the extremely biased search results. In my sample, liberal sources are cited a whopping 94% of the time. Conservative sources are ignored.

However, this does not explain the bias away, as the liberal Economist claims, it merely explains it. What is studiously overlooked is that conservatives feel the same was about the liberal news sources that Google people love, namely that they are not credible or trustworthy.

Here is some data on Google’s love of liberal sources. I took ten news searches, on a wide variety of topics, getting 91 source citations. Some sources are cited in many searches. A total of 13 appear in at least two searches.

Here is the list, in order of frequency of appearance:
1. CNN cited 8 times out of 91 citations
2. New York Times 6
3. Politico 5
4. Washington Post 4
5. VOX 4
6. The Hill 3
7. Business Insider 3
(Subtotal = 26 or 29%, almost one third of all citations)
8. The Guardian 2
9. ABC News 2
10. Forbes 2
11. Daily Beast 2
12. Fortune 2
Total = 36 or 40% of the citations.

Also conservative Fox News 2, the apparent token. So of the 38 more-than-once cited sources, the lone conservative source accounts for just 5% of the citations. This is roughly the same tiny fraction of conservatives that we find for all sources cited.

See my “How to measure the liberal bias in Google News.”

Conservatives like myself do not consider these liberal news sources to be credible or trustworthy, quite the contrary. In many cases I only read them to find out what the latest liberal thinking is. That some of these liberal sources are huge does not make them more credible or trustworthy.

So it looks to be very simple. Google’s news search results are extremely biased against conservative sources because the people who rank news sources do not like them. The Economist’s knowledge engineering model tells us that these folks consider conservative news sources to be not credible and not trustworthy. Bias then begets bias, as the human bias drives the algorithmic bias.

The solution looks to be simple. Google’s 10,000 news source rankers should be half conservatives, reflecting the political makeup of the American people. It is possible that the search results ranking algorithm does not have to be changed at all, just the people, which is probably much easier.

Mind you I can see left wing Google choking on such a requirement, but fairness demands it. Perhaps the Federal Government can give Google the necessary nudge. I would hate to see federal regulations imposed here, but the threat of that might be useful.

For that matter, I wonder if the conservative news sources that are being discriminated against can sue for damages, as this bias is certainly damaging to them. There might even be a class action suit in this.

In any case, now that we know the source of Google’s extreme bias against conservative news sources, steps can be taken to correct it.

Author

  • David Wojick, Ph.D. is an independent analyst working at the intersection of science, technology and policy. For origins see http://www.stemed.info/engineer_tackles_confusion.html For over 100 prior articles for CFACT see http://www.cfact.org/author/david-wojick-ph-d/ Available for confidential research and consulting.