Does Google Favor Left-Leaning News Outlets?

Does Google Favor Left-Leaning News Outlets?

By Tess Farrand, Staff Writer

By inputting a keyword in Google’s search engine, in a matter of seconds, you’ll have thousands upon thousands of results ranging from news, personal blogs and many other options. Have you ever wondered how Google filters through all these stories? A recent audit of a Google search is pulling back the veil on just how this is accomplished and revealing some findings on if left-leaning stories are favored over right-winged news…

The Computational Journalism Lab at Northwestern conducted an audit on the “Top Stories” box on Google to see how information is curated based on users searches. “We scraped Google results for more than 200 queries related to news events in November 2017,” the auditors explained. “We selected the queries to test by looking at Google Trends every day and manually choosing terms related to hard news events. These included names of people in the news… and breaking news events such as ‘earthquake,’ and issue-specific queries … We set up our scraper to minimize the potential for result personalization (the process by which Google tailors its search results to an account or IP address based on past use) and ran each query once per minute for a full 24 hours.

Conducting that many searches resulted in a great number of results. The auditors detailed, “in total, we collected 6,302 unique links to news articles shown in the Top Stories box. For each of those links we count an article impression each time one of those links appears.”

So, what does this mean?

“The data shows that just 20 news sources account for more than half of article impressions. The top 20 percent of sources (136 of 678) accounted for 86 percent of article impressions. And the top three accounted for 23 percent: CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. These statistics underscore the degree of concentration of attention to a relatively narrow slice of news sources.”

One might notice that the news outlets mentioned tend to be more liberal. The auditor’s data found that “62.4 percent of article impressions were from sources rated by that research as left-leaning, whereas 11.3 percent were from sources rated as right-leaning. 26.3 percent of impressions were from news sources that didn’t have ratings.”

The auditors mentioned with resolve that, “even if that last set of unknown impressions happened to be right-leaning, the trend would still be clear: A higher proportion of left-leaning sources appear in Top Stories.”

So that brings us back to the original question: does Google favor left-leaning news? Yes, but partly because there seems to me MORE left-leaning news produced. In their findings, the auditors point out that there are 2.2 more left leaning sources than right leaning, but the Google Top Stories ratio is 3.2. So even though there are more left leaning sources, the gap is greater than 2.2 for what appears in the Top News Feed with more left-leaning news than other viewpoints. Tell us what you think of this is the comments!

Concluding, the auditors summed up how they believe Google can improve on curating a more balanced pull of news for its users. “News source concentration on Google implies an unequal capture of attention and its benefits, including any advertising or potential subscription revenue that might result.” They continued this way, “if they are serious about supporting digital-first newsrooms, algorithmic news curators, including Google and others, might be more explicit in articulating the inherent design tradeoffs between the relevance desirable for individuals, the diversity desirable for society or democracy, and the fair competition desirable for news organizations.”

For more on the audit, see the full report here.