Every conservative who's ever searched a politically-charged topic on Google has inevitably noticed that left-wing outlets seem to dominate the results. Other than Fox News, not many right-leaning news sites seem to make the cut, especially not on the first page of results. But is that a function of the popularity of left-leaning media outlets over their right-leaning counterparts, or is it political bias built into Google's algorithm?
PJ Media's Paula Bolyard's recent study on the issue of Google bias suggests it's the latter. Bolyard found that of the first 100 results provided by Google for "Trump news," nearly all were from left-leaning outlets.
Bolyard notes that "Google has maintained that all outlets are treated fairly, but nevertheless, conservative sites have reported reduced search traffic and, in the case of Google-owned YouTube, content creators have been banned and demonetized." The suspicion that left-wing bias pervades the company was only heightened by the famous firing of conservative James Damore.
To test the bias theory, Bolyard searched for Trump using the news tab and then used the following "left" vs. "right" leaning chart provided by former CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson to designate the political slant of each site:
The apparent bias was "much worse" than she expected. Out of the first 100 results, only five stories by right-leaning sites made Google's search results: three by the Wall Street Journal and two by Fox News.
Of all sites, CNN received by far the most attention. When Bolyard tried it on multiple computers registered to different people, she got about the same results. "While not scientific, the results suggest a pattern of bias against right-leaning content," she writes. Here's the breakdown of the top 10 sites that had the most results in her initial search, only one of which is right-leaning: 1. CNN (21), 2. Washington Post (11), 3. NBC (11), 4. CNBC (8), T5. The Atlantic (5), T5. Politico (5), T5. New York Times (5), 8. Vox (4), T9. CBS (3) and T9. Wall Street Journal (3).
Bolyard notes that Google is constantly tweaking the algorithm. One significant change in May 2017 particularly impacted PJ Media, she writes, claiming that the site, along with other conservative sites, has "yet to recover the lost traffic" from that change.
As additional evidence of algorithm bias, Bolyard cites another recent study by search engine optimization company "Can I Rank" that found an anti-conservative bias in Google's results. Here's an excerpt from the study:
In order to assess how fairly search engine results portray political candidates and controversial issues, we collected over 1,200 URLs ranking highly in Google.com for politically-charged keywords such as “gun control”, “abortion”, “TPP”, and “Black Lives Matter”. Each URL was then assessed for political slant by politically active individuals from both the left and right. Finally, we used CanIRank’s SEO software to analyze how each URL compared in dozens of different ranking factors to determine whether Google’s algorithm treated websites similarly regardless of their political slant.
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.