Behind the Google-targeting-conservative-websites charge

On Jan 9, 2017 the Daily Caller broke a story about Google’s search engine providing media information apparently slanted against conservative websites.

Conservative websites like The Daily Wire and Newsbusters quickly echoed the Daily Caller’s story.

Mediaite also joined in. Here’s how Mediaite’s Joseph A. Wulfsohn described the situation:

When searching individual websites that have a blatant political slant, two columns appear in a sidebar. One reads “Writes About” and the other reads “Reviews Claimed.” The first column is pretty self-explanatory, which is to point out the topics often covered on the site with links to recent articles. But the second column is essentially a fact-checking technique that shows links to other sites that refute or debunk articles written on the site you’re searching, often citing Snopes.com.

The Daily Caller believes Google is “almost exclusively” targeting conservative sites. And they have a legitimate case.

Wulfsohn does a pretty good job on the story, but so far we haven’t spotted a version of the story that takes the step of explaining what’s going on.

The slanted results are only indirectly attributable to Google.

It’s the Google “claim review” markup

The one-sided appearance of the “Reviews Claimed” description almost certainly stems from the “claim review” markup Google launched in 2016. News and fact-checking sites using the claim review markup tend to lean left and they are the ones choosing the claims that receive a review. Google’s search engine just sifts the results and creates the “Reviews Claimed” section of the media source review Google provides.

So, unless the fact checkers are actively coordinating with Google on this (it’s possible!), it’s more likely a conspiracy of the informal type. Fact checkers and Google lean left, so when they look to police the truth or falsehood of political claims the results tend to favor liberalism. Maybe the fact checkers don’t even realize it. And of course liberals who believe Republicans lie more have no problem with it because of confirmation bias.

But Wulfsohn is right in saying it’s not a good look for Google.

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