A new audit shows Google is biased toward a small number of major media outlets — and most of them have a Left-leaning political bias. One-sided information isn’t healthy for democracy, yet the world's most popular source of news and information displays a major bias.
Back in October, AllSides conducted a 39-page Google bias report that found Google News is biased 65% toward Left and Left-leaning news sources. Now, a new audit by the Computational Journalism Lab at Northwestern University bolsters those claims.
The audit found that Google’s “Top Stories” section, which often appears at the very top of search results, favors a very small number of media outlets.
AllSides placed our Media Bias Ratings next to the top 20 sources that made up the highest percentage of “Top Stories” impressions. The majority have a Lean Left bias, just one has a Lean Right bias, and zero have a Right bias:
Scoping Out Google Bias
When it comes to news media, the power Google has to shape attention to certain information is massive. But when people only see one side of things, it leads to a highly polarized social and political environment. Google bias contributes to filter bubbles, which drives political polarization and animosity in our society.
In conducting the audit, Northwestern researchers Nicholas Diakopoulos and Daniel Trielli were curious about Google’s massive role in directing attention online. They conducted an audit to find out: “Which sites does Google drive traffic toward? And how does Google’s news curation impact the diversity of information found?”
Trielli and Diakopoulos collected Google results for more than 200 queries related to the news (such as “colin kaepernick,” “earthquake,” “tax reform,” or “healthcare.gov”) in November 2017. They took measures to reduce the impact of result personalization and ran each query once per minute for 24 hours.
They collected 6,302 unique links to news articles that appeared in the Top Stories section, with each link amounting to an impression each time it appeared.
They found that just 20 news sources account for more than half of article impressions on Google Top Stories.
The top 20 percent of sources (136 of 678) accounted for 86 percent of article impressions. The top three accounted for 23 percent: CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. Each of these outlets has a Lean Left AllSides Media Bias Rating.
“These statistics underscore the degree of concentration of attention to a relatively narrow slice of news,” Diakopoulos writes. “... 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.”
It might be time for Google to change its algorithm.
Why Google Media Bias Matters
Media diversity allows us to see multiple perspectives so we can appreciate those who are different from us and see the full picture. When we only view information that confirms our existing ideas and beliefs, we become stuck in filter bubbles. We end up hating “The Other Side” and wind up with a highly polarized political and social environment.
That’s why AllSides provides a balanced news feed where we carefully curate news from all sides of the political spectrum. We also provide media bias ratings so you can easily identify different perspectives.
Knowing that there is more than one side to any issue gives us a holistic view that better equips us to solve problems. Liberals aren’t right about everything, and neither are conservatives. We need everyone’s ideas in the room so that we can determine what’s best — but Google bias may be keeping us blind to information that matters.
Julie Mastrine is the Director of Marketing at AllSides. She has a Center bias.