Google’s Bias, Quantified

The Daily Mail reports on a Northwestern University study that attempted to quantify the liberal bias of Google’s “top stories” feature:

Google’s bias towards left-wing media outlets has been laid bare by an algorithm which detected that it favors sites including CNN and The New York Times over others.

According to data compiled by researchers from Northwestern University, the search engine promoted those sites over others repeatedly in November 2017.

Of the 6,302 articles that appeared in Google’s ‘top stories’ page that month after a term was searched, more than 10 percent were by CNN.

This is ridiculous, given CNN’s status as a failing, cranky, obsessively anti-Trump network that can’t compete in the marketplace.

The New York Times was the second most favored and accounted for 6.5 percent of articles. The Washington Post was third with 5.6 percent. By contrast, Fox News, the most right-wing outlet in mainstream media, was the source of just three percent of the stories which appeared.

No surprise there. More on the Northwestern study:

Nearly all (86 percent) of the stories came from just 20 sources and of them, 62 percent were considered to be left-leaning.

Here is the list of the 20 sources that accounted for 86% of Google’s “top stories.”

My question is, on what theory can only 62% of these sources (weighted by percentage, presumably) be considered left-leaning? I would say that 19 of the 20 are left-leaning, with Fox News being the only exception. Which makes is a little hard to understand what follows:

The data also revealed that while left-leaning sites produced more articles on any given subject (2.2 times as many as those on the right), Google’s Top Stories selection seemed to inflate the difference.

‘In Google Top Stories, that ratio was 3.2, indicating that the curation algorithm was slightly magnifying the left-leaning skew,’ Nicholas Diakopoulos, one of the two researchers, writes in The Columbia Journalism Review.

If those numbers are right, Google is “magnifying the left-leaning skew” by nearly 50%, which is hardly “slightly.” The real problem, of course, is that almost the entire “mainstream” media, to which Google understandably turns for its “top stories,” is liberal. Google apparently accentuates the problem by favoring aggressively left-wing outlets like CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post, but any algorithm that is confined to “mainstream” sources will yield results that are almost entirely left-leaning. I don’t see any prospect of that changing any time soon.

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