Getting information about last weekend’s Boston Free Speech rally wasn’t easy.
Google returned pages upon pages of results for corporate media sites repeating the same narrative: That the free speech protest was organised by the ‘far-right’, ‘right-wing’ and ‘phony libertarians’, and that it was countered by anti-fascist counter-protesters. I’d like to know how they arrived at this determination, given the lack of information about the protest or supporting evidence.
That’s when I got curious about what might be found using other search engines. The Ask.com results weren’t remarkably different, and the tone is pretty much the same.
Bing.com returned search results that were more balanced. It’s worth pointing out the word ‘right’ appears five times prefixed with ‘far-’ and ‘alt-’ in the Google results. There were no occurrences of those words in the first Bing results page.
DuckDuckGo’s results are also quite different to what Google returns. Notice most the links here are for local news reports. The term ‘far right’ is absent, and and the organisers are described only as ‘conservative activists’ here.
The results returned by Yandex were very interesting indeed. Why are the Goldwater Institute, American Torchbearers and Daily Stormer at the top of the results? Is this the go-to search engine for the politically-conservative?
I’m not suggesting the above is evidence that Google, or any of the search engines here for that matter, are intentionally manipulating search results. Each search engine uses an algorithm, and there are various factors that determine what users see.
What I will say, though, is that our ‘filter bubble’ extends to how we seek information, and not just what ‘friends’ and people we ‘follow’ post on social media. Next time you research a story, clear your browsing history, try different search engines and see what comes up.