Google search results for “Trump News” shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake News Media. In other words, they have it RIGGED, for me & others, so that almost all stories & news is BAD. Fake CNN is prominent. Republican/Conservative & Fair Media is shut out. Illegal? 96% of….
But media scholars like us have found that when it comes to news, search engines and social media tend to lead people not to a more narrow set of sources, but rather to a broader range of information.
In fact, we found, Google News is designed to avoid personalised search results, intentionally constructing a shared public conversation based on traditional criteria of journalistic values.
There is, however, one aspect of this lack of personalisation that may strike conservatives the wrong way: Established mainstream news outlets strongly dominate the results, regardless of what a user is searching for.
Shortly before the 2016 US presidential election, we studied what would happen when people searched for news about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton on Google News.
Specifically, we used Amazon Mechanical Turk to recruit a diverse set of 168 people in California, Florida, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Texas. Participants were of different ages, education levels and political views: 41 per cent identified as liberals and 26 per cent identified as conservatives. The remaining 33 per cent did not declare a political affiliation.
We asked them to search Google News for news about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump while logged in to their personal Google accounts, and report the first five stories they were recommended on each candidate.
We repeated this on two separate occasions, once after a presidential debate and later during a slow news period. Then we compared the stories that people were recommended.
The fact that they were logged in to their Google accounts was important: Google, of course, collects huge amounts of data about each of its users, and could leverage that information when returning search results. Therefore, we expected to find people getting different article recommendations based on their prior search history and online activity, as recorded by Google and applied to the results they got from Google News.
However, there is reason to understand – even if not to agree with – claims of bias.
First, Google News search results do favour legacy news organisations, ones with a long history. In our study, of the 14 news sites that ranked highly on at least one search, only three were newer “digital-first” news organisations.
The rest were legacy newspapers, national TV stations and magazines.
Whether this is a problem – and if so, how much of one – is largely up to individual interpretation.
For people who care that public discourse is based on a shared set of facts, it’s good news to learn that most people get the same results when they search Google News. And for people who believe that long-standing news producers with proven track records are best equipped to report on current events, our research is reassuring.
Yet across the political spectrum, Americans have far more trust in their local media than in the national media organisations that dominate online – including the results of Google News.
Ultimately, the concerns about algorithms and technology boil down to the principles that guide recommendation engines in shaping what reports get the most attention.
Should Google News prioritise stories that adhere to traditional journalistic norms? Or should it reflect some other, yet undetermined standard? Trump’s rhetoric resonates with his supporters because, to them and others, the answer is not so clear-cut.