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Internet Bias Distorts News, Part 3

The New York Analysis of Policy and Government concludes its examination of political bias on the internet. 

The political bias of the Google search engine, as well as social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, is clearly established. Is there a solution?

Some have suggested that government intervene to establish some standards of fairness. That is a cure worse than the disease. One of the prime goals of an independent media is to act as a check on government. It would not take long for the temptation to warp reporting in favor of incumbents to set in.  Indeed, during the eight years of the Obama Administration, there were numerous attempts to limit the ability of government critics, especially conservatives, to operate independent of federal interference.

The only safe and viable solution is to insure that competing search engines and social media sites, which should be developed by both responsible journalists as well as those who have been discriminated against by Google, Facebook, or Twitter, have a level playing field in which to operate. Cathy Young, writing for The Hill, notes that “If established social networks are increasingly perceived as inhospitable to conservatives or libertarians, there will inevitably be stepped-up initiatives to create alternative platforms—which would have no shortage of potential Silicon Valley backers…”

The Fee.org website suggests that “If Google is underserving its users, then that underservice is a golden opportunity. Google’s hold on its current users is weak: Entrepreneurs can capitalize on Google’s weakness, creating new search engines that steal away those dissatisfied customers with the promise of better service…”

Despite Google’s current dominance, this is not impossible. As Fee notes,  “In the 1990s, Yahoo! dominated the search engine market. In the early 2000s, MySpace dominated social media. Both benefitted from network effects. Both were taken down, not by rival giants with networks of their own, but by a few college kids creating something more effective and desirable.”

Alternatives also exist to currently dominant social media sites.   Natural News  lists several existing alternatives, and reveals that others are currently being planned for those who “are sick and tired of the…censorship of either your posts or those of real news organizations that Facebook, Twitter, Google, Yahoo and others have arbitrarily deemed ‘fake’…these current and forthcoming sites are true free speech zones where you can say and post what you want, without the fear that it will be censored.”

Among the sites listed: GoodGopher.com, which specializes in science topics; GAB.ai
“Developed by free-speech advocate Andrew Torba, GAB.ai is a Twitter-style network that combats censorship by allowing users to post whatever they want, saying what they want and expressing themselves as they wantand Seen.life, a social media site also dedicated free speech and the promise of enhanced privacy.

There are alternatives to Google, such as Bing. However, they have not attained the general acceptance or widespread contacts that have made Google the powerhouse in its fields.

Until a viable alternative is developed, there are ways to get around Google’s search engine bias while doing research. Education Week found that students were not proficient in discriminating between biased reporting and actual news. They suggested the following strategy, which astute fact-checkers employ:

“Fact-checkers use the vast resources of the Internet to determine where information is coming from before they read it… They don’t evaluate a site based solely on the description it provides about itself… fact-checkers look past the order of search results. Instead of trusting Google to sort pages by reliability (which reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of how Google works), the checkers mined URLs and abstracts for clues. They regularly scrolled down to the bottom of the search results page in their quest to make an informed decision about where to click first.”

Internet Bias Distorts News, Part 2

The New York Analysis of Policy and Government continues its review of internet bias.

The Journal, “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States of America” (PNAS) warns that “search engine companies… could affect—and perhaps are already affecting—the outcomes of close elections worldwide. Restricting search ranking manipulations to voters who have been identified as undecided while also donating money to favored candidates would be an especially subtle, effective, and efficient way of wielding influence…manipulation of search rankings might exert a disproportionately large influence over voters for four reasons: First…the process by which search rankings affect voter preferences might interact synergistically with the process by which voter preferences affect search rankings, thus creating a sort of digital bandwagon effect that magnifies the potential impact of even minor search ranking manipulations. Second, campaign influence is usually explicit, but search ranking manipulations are not. Such manipulations are difficult to detect, and most people are relatively powerless when trying to resist sources of influence they cannot see … Of greater concern in the present context, when people are unaware they are being manipulated, they tend to believe they have adopted their new thinking voluntarily … Third, candidates normally have equal access to voters, but this need not be the case with search engine manipulations. Because the majority of people in most democracies use a search engine provided by just one company, if that company chose to manipulate rankings to favor particular candidates or parties, opponents would have no way to counteract those manipulations…Finally, with the attention of voters shifting rapidly toward the Internet and away from traditional sources of information…the potential impact of search engine rankings on voter preferences will inevitably grow over time, as will the influence of people who have the power to control such rankings.”

Internet  manipulation of the news has raised concern of both those favoring objective coverage as well as those conservatives who have been victimized by left-leaning search engines and social media sites.  The Washington Times reported how two top websites moved to “suppress information about the Orlando mass shooter’s ties to the Islamic State, just days after Google was accused of burying negative stories about presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Even as companies like Facebook and Google deny any institutional political bias, conservatives like Less Government’s Seton Motley say that Silicon Valley’s liberal titans apparently can’t help themselves.”

A study  by  Ronald E. Robertson of Northeastern University,  Samantha J. Shepherd and Shu Zhang  of the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology found that “between May and November 2016, search results displayed in response to a wide range of election-related search terms were, on average, biased in Mrs. Clinton’s favor in all 10 search-result positions. This bias could not be accounted for by the bias in the search terms themselves. We also found different levels of bias in different search engines, as well as evidence of demographically-targeted bias. We don’t know what caused these patterns of bias, but no matter what the cause or causes, given the power of search rankings to shift votes and opinions without people’s awareness they are a matter for concern.”

Conservatives have justifiably criticized social media cites as well as search engines.

Michael Nunez, reporting in Gizmodo writes that “Facebook workers routinely suppressed news stories of interest to conservative readers from the social network’s influential ‘trending’ news section, according to a former journalist who worked on the project. This individual says that workers prevented stories about the right-wing CPAC gathering, Mitt Romney, Rand Paul, and other conservative topics from appearing in the highly-influential section, even though they were organically trending among the site’s users.”  Citing a former Facebook “news curator,” Nunez describes how topics embarrassing to the left were censored out. “Among the deep-sixed or suppressed topics on the list: former IRS official Lois Lerner, who was accused by Republicans of inappropriately scrutinizing conservative groups; Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker; popular conservative news aggregator the Drudge Report; Chris Kyle, the former Navy SEAL who was murdered in 2013; and former Fox News contributor Steven Crowder. ‘I believe it had a chilling effect on conservative news,’ the former curator said.”

Twitter has similarly sought to limit conservative use of its site, notes Breitbart. According to the analysis, Twitter maintains a “blacklist” of accounts, consisting of  conservative users who have their posts hidden from both search results and other users’ timelines.

You Tube has also been charged with censorship, but of a less restrictive type. According to the Daily Wire “YouTube, which is owned by…Google, has displayed its nasty bias against conservative thought, banning the influential law website Legal Insurrection from posting on the channel…. YouTube’s bias is becoming clearer and clearer; in October the channel started censoring videos produced by Prager University; 21 Prager University videos were placed by Google under ‘restricted mode,’ which limited access to them for many schools and families.”

The Report concludes tomorrow.

Internet Bias Distorts News

The New York Analysis of Policy and Government presents a three-part examination of the political bias found on search engines and social media sites.

There is little doubt that the internet is a powerful, and perhaps decisive, force in the 21st century American political environment.  According to a study by the Pew Research Center  “A majority of U.S. adults – 62% – get news on social media…”

But as the role of internet as a principal source of information expands, there is justifiable concern about the accuracy and objectivity of the information presented.  Search Engine Watch notes that “Search engines may think of themselves as being objective but like any other media company, editorial judgements are made and are factored into automated operations. Engines trust certain sources more than others”

An NYU research project found that “search engines raise not merely technical issues but also political ones. Our study of search engines suggests that they systematically exclude (in some cases by design and in some, accidentally) certain sites and certain types of sites in favor of others, systematically giving prominence to some at the expense of others.”

The problem of using the internet as a source of news or general information has been noted by those using it for not just general research but for specific professional purposes as well. A Forbes study reports that “Social media like Facebook and Twitter  are far too biased to be used blindly by social science researchers, two computer scientists have warned. Writing in…Science, Carnegie Mellon’s Juergen Pfeffer and McGill’s Derek Ruths have warned that scientists are treating the wealth of data gathered by social networks as a goldmine of what people are thinking – but frequently they aren’t correcting for inherent biases in the dataset.”

The issue is of overwhelming importance. Kalev Leetaru wrote in Forbes that “Far from democratizing how we access the world’s information, the web has in fact narrowed those information sources. Much as large national chains and globalization have replaced the local mom-and-pop shop with the megastore and local craftsmanship with assembly line production, the internet is centralizing information access from a myriad websites and local newspapers and radio/television shows to single behemoth social platforms that wield universal global control over what we consume. Indeed, social media platforms appear to increasingly view themselves no longer as neural publishing platforms but rather as active mediators and curators of what we see. This extends even to new services like messaging. David Marcus, Facebook’s Vice President of Messaging recently told Wired: “Unlike email where there is no one safeguarding the quality and the quantity of the stuff you receive, we’re here in the middle to protect the quality and integrity of your messages and to ensure that you’re not going to get a lot of stuff you don’t want.” In short, Facebook wants to act as an intelligent filter onto what we see of the world. The problem is that any filter by design must emphasize some content and views at the expense of others.”

Robert Schlesinger, writing for U.S. News,  explains that “while big social media – be it Facebook or Google News – has news-purveying components they’re not news organizations as such and don’t have news missions. They’re part of larger companies with agendas that don’t necessarily include fairly informing the citizenry. And they have real power, regardless of whether they’re using it or not.”

The internet research organization Can I Rank found that “Although internet search engines like Google play an increasingly prominent role shaping voter opinions and perception of issues and candidates, their ranking algorithms aren’t designed to provide a fairly balanced or completely honest representation of controversial issues…Among our key findings were that top search results were almost 40% more likely to contain pages with a “Left” or “Far Left” slant than they were pages from the right. Moreover, 16% of political keywords contained no right-leaning pages at all within the first page of results. Our analysis of the algorithmic metrics underpinning those rankings suggests that factors within the Google algorithm itself may make it easier for sites with a left-leaning or centrist viewpoint to rank higher in Google search results compared to sites with a politically conservative viewpoint.” The study found that 16% of political keyword searches yielded no conservative-oriented pages within the initial search results.

The Report continues tomorrow.