At the end of March, Google announced five new features to verify information, including features to “Learn more about this result,” “Find diverse perspectives,” “Learn more about this author,” and “Learn more about this page,” as well as content advisories for rapidly evolving topics. It is also investing in more fact checking measures.
AllSides rates Google News as Lean Left. This was reinforced by an AllSides analysis conducted in late 2022; it found that 61% of articles on Google News’ homepage came from Left or Lean Left-rated outlets, while only 3% came from Right or Lean Right-rated outlets. Past analyses of Google News by AllSides and other researchers have consistently found Lean Left bias.
Google’s new features can help provide users with a more balanced, well-informed perspective — if done right. If applied without balance, they also have the potential to push people further into filter bubbles that reinforce only one perspective and shut out alternative views, which makes them more susceptible to misinformation.
Google says that a “carousel will appear below Top Stories and showcase insights from a range of journalists, experts, and other relevant voices on the topic you’re searching for. This feature will give you a variety of noteworthy voices on a news topic.”
While including more perspectives is an important aim, if Google does not actually include a diverse range of thought, it could convince people they are viewing a balance of perspectives while actually reinforcing their filter bubbles. If Google News continues to favor perspectives from the left side of the political spectrum in its new perspectives section (as shown by our analysis mentioned above), then it runs the risk of pushing people deeper into filter bubbles.
“Learn More About” Features
The “Learn more about this result,” “Learn more about this author,” and “Learn more about this page” features will display how the source describes itself, how other users describe it, as well as third-party coverage of the source.
For example, you may see a story from the Daily Wire (Right Bias), along with context on how the source describes itself (“The Daily Wire does not claim to be without bias”). This information might help you identify when a source is overtly biased or making an effort at neutrality.
Content Advisories on Rapidly Evolving Topics
According to Google, the goal of content advisories would only be to stop information gaps — you would always be able to access the search query results even when the advisory is present.
AllSides agrees that it is important to know, for instance, if it’s less than 24 hours after a major event occurs, all of the facts may not be available yet. For instance, following the recent Nashville shooting, it was initially reported that the shooter was female. Only later was it revealed that the shooter had recently been identifying as a transgender male.
Google says it has taken three major actions to improve fact checking.
The first is partnering with the Public Library Association to help train about 1,000 librarians to teach patrons about information literacy.
Second, Google is “partnering with MediaWise at the nonprofit Poynter Institute for Media Studies to expand their Teen Fact-Checking Network, a volunteer program made up of middle and high schoolers who debunk viral misinformation and share media literacy tips.”
The third action Google took is co-funding a $13.2 million grant with YouTube to the International Fact-Checking Network to launch a new Global Fact Check Fund.
Mitigating misinformation is a worthy goal, and teaching about information and media literacy is a great way to combat falsehoods. However, funding fact checking services can be tricky, because fact checkers themselves often have biases (see the AllSides Fact Check Bias Chart™, which reveals the bias of major fact checkers).
It’s not unheard of for fact checkers to come to completely different conclusions about a claim or use fact checking to support a partisan agenda. We have seen this recently, such as when the Global Disinformation Index (Left bias) primarily rated sources on the right as “high-risk” for disinformation, or when fact-checkers from left and right drew different conclusions on the connections between billionaire donor George Soros and Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.
If done right, Google’s new features could add helpful context and information to search results. However, the potential for an unbalanced or misleading approach remains.
Time will tell how well these features address misinformation. Addressing the problem must start with an awareness of how bias affects our perceptions of what is true and what is false, and how the truth reveals itself when you consume a variety of viewpoints.
Clare Ashcraft is the Bridging and Bias Assistant at AllSides. She has a Center bias.
This blog was reviewed by Henry A. Brechter, Editor-in-chief (Center bias), Joseph Ratliff, Daily News Editor (Lean Left bias), Julie Mastrine, Director of Marketing and Media Bias Ratings (Lean Right), and Johnathon Held, Content Intern (Lean Right).