Conservatives: Stop Crying Wolf On Tech Bias Or No One Will Ever Take You Seriously

from the this-is-not-the-bias-you-are-looking-for dept

In an article picked up by Drudge Report and then tweeted by President Donald Trump himself, PJ Media editor Paula Bolyard makes the shocking claim that Google deliberately manipulates its search results to favor left-wing views and undermine the President.

In supporting this allegation, she goes to Google and looks through the first hundred listings on the search engine results page. Therein, she finds that 96 percent of results for "Trump" are from liberal media outlets. Bolyard remarks:

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

She adds that other than Fox News and the Wall Street Journal, traditional right-leaning outlets didn't make the cut:

PJ Media did not appear in the first 100 results, nor did National Review, The Weekly Standard, Breitbart, The Blaze, The Daily Wire, Hot Air, Townhall, Red State, or any other conservative-leaning sites except the two listed above.

Aha! A big tech company caught red handed pushing its progressive agenda. Well...not so fast. Rather than uncovering compelling evidence of bias, this article's author and its promoters merely reveal their ignorance of how search engines work.

First, the author seems to conflate Google Search and Google News, two products which use different algorithms and serve different functions. Google News is a searchable news aggregator and app (with some overt editorial functions), whereas Google Search tries to give users the most useful and relevant information in response to a query.

In order to determine what constitutes a relevant and useful result, search engines use complex algorithms to rank the quality of different pages based on a variety of signals such as keywords, authoritativeness, freshness or site architecture. A big part of this quality determination is based on outside links to a site – an idea going back to Larry Page and Sergey Brin's work at Stanford in the late 1990s that culminated in the creation of the PageRank algorithm.

Page and Brin realized that incoming links to a site served as a proxy for quality markers like authoritativeness, trustworthiness and popularity. Today, Google Search is much more complex, utilizing complex machine-learning functions like RankBrain and an evolving set of algorithms with names like Hummingbird, Panda, Penguin and Pigeon. However, incoming links are still a key factor. Additionally, while Google uses manual quality raters to test new algorithm changes, they do not use them on live search results.

Google News' approach to ranking results is also driven by algorithms that use a number of the same signals (you can get an idea from their patent), with a couple exceptions where manual input is used for editorial features, major events, and cross-over results from Google Search for particular topics.

With this in mind, it should be no great surprise that outlets like the New York Times, CNN, and Washington Post trounce outlets like PJ Media, National Review, and the Weekly Standard in organic search. The sites in the latter group don't have metrics that support them rising to the top of the search algorithm. Of course, PJ Media found Fox and WSJ weren't affected by this "bias" because their numbers are actually comparable to the former group of "left-wing" outlets (see below).

(Data from

This approach to ranking quality isn't just a Google thing. If you look at competitors like DuckDuckGo or Bing (which PJ Media didn't seem to bother doing), you're going to see pretty similar results. Maybe this says something about the media landscape. But it's not a good reason to storm Mountain View with pitchforks.

PJ Media's conspiracy-mongering is based on an avoidable misunderstanding that could throw gasoline on the techlash and lead to policies that chill American innovation (although at least for now, conservatives still think a Fairness Doctrine for the Internet is a dumb idea).

It's worth saying that libertarians and conservatives aren't totally unreasonable in wanting to investigate whether they're getting fair treatment by tech companies. After all, Silicon Valley is a very liberal place that doesn't always reflect their norms or values (I also say this as someone with generally right-leaning views who has worked for organizations like the Cato Institute and R Street). That being said, if you're going to make an allegation that there's a big conspiracy, you should do your due diligence. This means taking time to understand the underlying technology before jumping to conclusions.

On Google's part, given all of the tensions around bias lately, they would probably be wise to be more transparent about how their news algorithm works and do more proactive outreach to avoid future misunderstandings.

Zach Graves is Head of Policy for Lincoln Network

Filed Under: algorithms, bias, content moderation, donald trump, free speech, google news, journalism, news, search
Companies: google

Reader Comments

The First Word

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    John Smith, 28 Aug 2018 @ 1:32pm


    No, it's credentialism, or what lawyers and other white-collar professionals use to justify their monopoly.

    The internet has shown credentialism for what it is. Individuals have broken stories and been ignored only to have the public "shocked" up to a quarter-century later when it finally hits the mainstream.

    Same reason the "evil media companies" dominate: we want them to. This leads to them stealing ideas from indies who don't realize the game is rigged and literally feed the beast.

    Even things like registered copyrights which predate the mainstream media's "scoops" doesn't convince a public that stays within its walled-off gardens, then complain about those who walled them off.

    Bottom line is most people are stupid and can't think for themselves, their narcissism fed by internet companies who profit from their traffic. Kind of like Hollywood making movies about doing the right thing and laughing behind the backs of the public it claims to value.

    What are most successful films and TV shows about? Losers who make the everyman feel good about himself. At the end of each episode, we get a feel-good lecture about what's really important in life from people who put money and power above it and laugh their tails off at how stupid "we" are.

    Then some celebrity gives seven figures to some "spiritual guru" who has the nerve to call them on their hypocrisy.

    There's no saving most of this species. A small number of them have "breakaway DNA" and are separating from the masses as a prelude to exterminating them. H5N1 was a dry run to ensure that the killer virus that is released won't blow back to destroy those who release it.

    There is tons of evidence of this already. Wolves still exist except for those who turned into dogs, apes still exist except for those who evolved into humans (the wolf/dog analogy doesn't have racist connotations so it passes the "hate speech" filter.

    There's no point in trying to convince obsolete DNA of something that might help it evolve. The answer is to simply evolve around it the way we did the apes, who still exist on the same planet as us, but in a totally different world. how do you think that happened? A few humans dud not sit down with the apes and reason with them. They built superior weapons, walls, hunted and cleared out the jungles, and built a society literally superimposed on the jungle the apes think they rule as its "alpha males."

    Take a pet wolf into your home and it will attempt to take over the home because its DNA tells it to. Take a pet DOG into your home and it will train you to walk it, provide for it, and care for you. I used to have a dog who would bark loudly and run out to my terrace whenever anyone was outside. I laughed at this, not realizing the very smart pooch considered it its job to alert its masters to potential intrusions.

    no one wants to confront evolution when it's occurring right in front of their eyes. The reality is too painful for those who will be left behind. The sociopaths in Hollywood thought they were the breakaway species until they turned on each other, because sociopathy is parasittc and unsustainable. They hate socialists the way wolves hate dogs. A wolf would tear a dog apart in a fight, yet this country has maybe a few hundred wolves who need protection, and about 300 million dogs. Why?

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Techdirt Gear
Show Now: Takedown
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.