This piece was originally published by Newsweek (Center bias).
People who rely on major news aggregators like Google News, Bing News and Yahoo! News for their political news are being ensconced inside filter bubbles, and this drives greater polarization, division and dysfunction in society overall.
Filter bubbles occur when someone is exposed only to one-perspective, or only to news that confirms his or her existing beliefs. Research repeatedly shows that when people only see one side, they become less tolerant of people and ideas that are different then they are. We, as a society, grow more divided and less accepting of each other.
Multiple analyses have found that major news aggregators are heavily biased. Sixty-one percent of media outlets presented on Google News' homepage over a five-day period were from left media sources, with just 3 percent from outlets on the right in the days leading up to the 2022 midterms. An analysis of 588 curated articles published by Yahoo! News in April 2022 showed that 65 percent were from media outlets on the left, and just 5 percent were from outlets on the right. And a brand-new analysis of Bing News shows even worse balance than Google or Yahoo: Bing News' homepage displayed zero articles from sources on the right during the two-week period studied.
Not all news aggregators are left or left leaning. Manually curated sites like RealClearPolitics do a good job of curating a roughly equal balance of news from the left and right. AllSides uses a combination of technology and a politically balanced editorial team to curate and summarize major news and display how it is covered by the left, center and right. But let's face it—major search engines like Google and Bing dominate our news consumption, and this represents a problem for our society.
If search engines and news aggregators don't give a fair and even-handed representation of our political environment—or if they actively fuel partisan division—we begin to splinter and polarize against one another, harming our democratic society.
A study of 11 countries found that when political leaders cast their opponents as immoral or corrupt, they create a tribal dynamic—"us" versus "them" thinking that sows distrust, bias and hostility. It stands to reason that a polarized media climate would have the same effect. A society of groups hostile to one another cannot effectively come together to solve problems. Instead, we experience increased fear, lessened trust, increased suspicion of others, and possibly even violence.
Does this sound familiar? Is this what the United States is becoming?
But we now see that people are turning against that.
The demise of BuzzFeed, long known for partisan clickbait, shows hyperpartisanship is not necessarily a sustainable business model. Both CNN and Politico have announced their intentions to be less partisan and less one-sided in the future. In fact, 76 percent of U.S. adults think that journalists should always strive to give every side equal coverage, while far fewer journalists believe that they should do that (just 44 percent).
Fifty-five percent of Americans say they see a "great deal" of bias in news media coverage. If journalists themselves will not commit to giving an even-handed representation of all sides, perhaps news aggregators and search engines can acknowledge political bias in news outlets and present users with a broad view.
Offering a broad view doesn't only help to mitigate societal polarization, it has a positive effect on the individual, too. A study found that participants who actively diversified their online news feeds by interacting with people and content espousing different points of view reported lower levels of anxiety related to current events. Diversifying our news streams can help us to better understand and appreciate different perspectives and feel calmer about the state of our country—even if we don't agree on the issues.
Is bias in news aggregators and search engines intentional?
It's possible, or perhaps merely an accident of the algorithm. They could also reflect the bias of internet news content overall—maybe the left is simply more prominent online or has been more effective at online marketing. Or perhaps the slanted results merely reflect a profit motive, either intentional or accidental, in which news from one political side leads to more views, clicks, and ad revenue than others.
But no matter the cause, it appears Google, Bing, and Yahoo! have decided the problem of political news bias is not a sufficiently important problem to address, or have so far been unable to address it effectively. This has a negative effect on our society.
If news aggregators intend to support a free and independent democratic society, and to provide their readers with the ability to consume a variety of perspectives and decide for themselves the best course, they are failing in that objective. Our society, and perhaps our democratic system, needs them to do a better job.
John Gable is co-founder and CEO of AllSides. He has a Lean Right bias.