Using Google is Like Watching Fox News or MSNBC

That's something I picked up in science, I suppose -- wanting to know the other side of the story, testing one's ideas against the alternative. Of course, one is naturally predisposed to what one already believes. Early nurturing and education is not to be discounted. One might even have a genetic nudge toward liberality or conservatism. Still, it behooves one to approach alternative views with an open mind, or at least as open as one can manage.


And now I read Sue Halpern reviewing books about the internet in the New York Review of Books (June 23-July13), and in particular Eli Pariser's The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You. I discover what I suppose I already knew and didn't think much about, that since December 2009 the Google search engine -- which I use regularly -- contours every search to fit the profile of the person making the query. That is to say, Google knows quite a bit about me -- a "Chet" profile resides in some massive server in (I'm guessing) California -- and its search algorithm ranks its "hits" according to what it thinks I want to see.

Halpern writes:

Among the many insidious consequences of this individualization is that by tailoring the information you receive to the algorithm's perception of who you are, a perception that it constructs out of fifty-seven variables, Google directs you to material that is most likely to reinforce your own worldview, ideology, and assumptions…In this way, the Internet, which isn't the press, but often functions like the press by disseminating news and information, begins to cut us off from dissenting opinion and conflicting points of view, all the while seeming to be neutral and objective and unencumbered by the kind of bias inherent in, and embraced by, say the The Weekly Standard or The Nation.

That is to say, a Google search is less like a visit to an encyclopedia, dictionary or public library than it is like spending all one's time exclusively with either Fox News or MSNBC.


The search engine caters its results to your biases.

Folksonomies: bias

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Google:Company (0.919950 (positive:0.049769)), search engine:FieldTerminology (0.591534 (positive:0.421801)), Sue Halpern:Person (0.567534 (negative:-0.252163)), MSNBC:Company (0.528944 (positive:0.421801)), Fox News:TelevisionShow (0.414187 (positive:0.421801)), Eli Pariser:Person (0.407625 (neutral:0.000000))

Web search engine (0.987652): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc | yago
Google search (0.881045): dbpedia | opencyc | yago
Bing (0.807523): dbpedia
Internet (0.702636): dbpedia | freebase | opencyc
Google (0.667660): website | dbpedia | freebase | yago | crunchbase
World Wide Web (0.648479): dbpedia | freebase | yago
PageRank (0.642086): dbpedia | freebase
News Corporation (0.611009): website | dbpedia | freebase | opencyc | yago | crunchbase

 In a bubble?
Electronic/World Wide Web>Blog:  Chet, Raymo (AUGUST 12, 2011), In a bubble?, Science Musings Blog, Retrieved on 2012-01-05
  • Source Material []
  • Folksonomies: skepticism