The days following two tragic mass shootings in Dayton, OH and El Paso, TX were extremely active for newsrooms nationwide. But readers who used Google to learn about the shootings may have seen an overwhelming majority of news from left-leaning media sources — CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post in particular — rather than a mix of news sources from the left, center, and right, according to a new audit by AllSides.
The audit was reviewed by a multipartisan team of individuals from the left and right. AllSides uses a multi-partisan, balanced, patented system for measuring bias.
Get AllSides in your Inbox
AllSides assessed 522 news articles that were featured as one of the top three results in Google’s “Top Stories” section for 10 shooting-related queries over three days.
The audit found:
- 70% of results were from outlets that have an AllSides Media Bias Rating of Lean Left or Left.
- 18% of stories were from outlets that have a Center media bias.
- 4% of stories were from Lean Right or Right biased outlets.
- 8% of results came from outlets not rated by AllSides.
In addition, nearly half (46%) of results came from just three news websites. CNN (25%), the New York Times (14%) and the Washington Post (7%) appeared in the first three results of the “Top Stories” box most often.
Outlets with a Center bias rating were outpaced by Left or Lean Left articles by close to 400 percent. Outlets with Lean Right or Right ratings appeared only 19 times over three days, and all 19 were for the most general search query, “Trump.” More balanced news outlets like BBC,NPR, USA Today and Wall Street Journal — as well as the entirety of the right-leaning media spectrum — got close to no “Top Stories” exposure for any of the queries searched.
The findings bolster claims of Google’s alleged anti-conservative bias, and reveal evidence of a possible preference for prominent outlets such as CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post. The results reinforce previous Google bias audits and reports done by AllSides and researchers at Northwestern University.
Measuring Google Bias
To conduct the audit, AllSides searched 10 terms related to the weekend’s tragedies in an incognito Google Chrome browser. Each term was searched six times at 30 minute intervals on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons (EST) for a total of 7.5 hours. AllSides only recorded news stories that appeared as the top three results in Google’s “Top Stories” section for each search query, and noted each source’s AllSides Media Bias Rating. Across each of the 174 queries, AllSides revealed significant Google bias toward prominent left-leaning media outlets. View the raw data here.
This analysis does not show any direct evidence that Google is intentionally suppressing voices from the right in relation to the shootings. It may be that a lack of right-leaning news media overall accounts for the huge difference between left and right-leaning appearances in Google News, or is perhaps an unintended consequence of Google’s algorithm.
This audit had a small sample size, yet tracks closely with prior data on Google bias. Last year, AllSides released a 39-page report on Google News bias that revealed Google News is 65% biased toward sources with a left-wing media bias. In addition, a lengthy audit conducted by researchers at Northwestern University also found Google’s “Top Stories” section favors Left media outlets.
AllSides reviewed 70 news sources on the right, and most of them did cover the weekend’s news along with left-wing media. Yet Fox News (16 times), National Review (2) and the Washington Examiner (1) were the only right-wing media sources that appeared in any of the 174 search queries performed by AllSides — and only for the very general query “Trump.”
Differences in Left-Wing and Right-Wing Media Narratives
Google’s preference for left media outlets meant certain perspectives were seen more than others.
For example, the suspected El Paso shooter wrote a manifesto expressing his concern about a “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” An oft-seen narrative in news coverage came from sources on the left that tied the manifesto to comments President Donald Trump has made, which some on the left see as incitements to racist violence. Meanwhile, news outlets and commentators on the right mentioned that the Dayton shooter was a socialist and supporter of Elizabeth Warren, while emphasizing their belief in the importance of protecting free speech in the wake of the shootings.
Not every story published by a left-leaning outlet is biased. But they often provide similar narratives that align more with the left-wing than other political tribes. Consuming articles like this is part of a healthy news diet, but a 70% left-wing bias is not balanced.
Algorithmic Bias Impacts Democracy
This audit reveals how bias impacts individual news stories on a daily basis. It also aligns closely with other much more extensive data showing Google bias, and raises questions about the role of algorithmic news aggregators in a healthy democracy. Digital news media should broaden, not narrow, our perspectives so that we can be free of filter bubbles and understand issues from all sides.
It is bad for democracy when multiple viewpoints are hard to find. At its best, news media presents all sides of an issue so that people can decide what they think for themselves. This helps people to appreciate diverse perspectives and those who have different views, creating a more tolerant and well-informed public.
Please contact AllSides for any media inquiries about this audit.