September 24, 2004 4:17 AM   Subscribe

Google News Bias. How second tier websites are gaming the Google News Enging.
posted by srboisvert (22 comments total)
Uhm, I assume that's supposed to be 'Engine', right?
posted by metaxa at 4:19 AM on September 24, 2004

I find google news pretty useless--and it's just too weird to see something obviously biased (in either direction) pop up as one of the top results when searching for actual news, and not the general web (where it's expected). It reminds me of how so much of cable news is opinion and not actually news, something that shouldn't be repeated online.

I think they would do well to assemble some actual humans to fix that.
posted by amberglow at 5:27 AM on September 24, 2004

I agree, I've noticed as I've become more involved with the American Presidential campaign that Google News seems to more often include (what I consider to be) less credible "news" sources - OK, blogs... there, I said it, you happy now? My God, I hate that word... - that either support Bush directly or support Bush by being overly critical of Kerry, rather than the other way around. While ForgedMemoGate was playing out, it seems there were lots and lots of links to online "sources," purporting to "prove" that the memos were fakes. Where are the tons of links to lefty sources that detail how the content of the memos is actually true, even if the memos are recreations?
posted by JollyWanker at 5:46 AM on September 24, 2004

Where are the tons of links to lefty sources that detail how the content of the memos is actually true, even if the memos are recreations?

You know, I'm pretty sure the memos were factually inaccurate (incorrect years, inconsistent details) as well as obviously forged. And what's with the scare quotes around "prove". I guess it's not just a river in Egypt after all...
posted by reklaw at 6:04 AM on September 24, 2004

I love Google but this is a bug that needs addressing.
When David wHorowitzs' spewings get top ratings there's definitely a problem.

A reminder to Google of one of their basic values: "Don't be evil."
posted by nofundy at 6:05 AM on September 24, 2004

I wonder how some sort of "credibility ranking" would work - human decided, probably, but then you have the issues of bias in deciding which sites are credible, and you risk hiding more obscure sources that occasionally break important news.

I'm sure some people would claim that the Australian Google News is biased towards the left because of the high number of links to the ABC that appear. It's probably just because the ABC has such a broad and frequently updated site.
posted by Jimbob at 6:40 AM on September 24, 2004

I'm pretty sure the memos were factually inaccurate (incorrect years, inconsistent details) as well as obviously forged. And what's with the scare quotes around "prove". I guess it's not just a river in Egypt after all...

And I'm pretty sure that your statements are a strong indicator that denial is indeed not a river in Egypt.
May I recommend you go back through the threads here on MeFi regarding Bush's service, follow all the links, read the material, and then come back and tell me who is in denial.

Which facts do you believe to be inaccurate?
That Bush got favorable treatment to get into TANG?
That Bush failed to live up to the commitments he made to TANG?
That Bush was AWOL?
That records have been "cleansed" to protect Bush from his wayward past?
That each and every time Bush said "all the records have been released" he was lying?

Geez Louise! Get real!
posted by nofundy at 7:29 AM on September 24, 2004

Sorry for the derail above.
Just could not let that pass without a response.
posted by nofundy at 7:34 AM on September 24, 2004

Not that this balances everything out or anything, but yesterday I was stunned to see the Headline, on the top "U.S." story (bottom of the first screen on my computer), TANG Typewriter: It Was ROVE, which turned out to be a DailyKos rant - an entertaining theory that addresses my main objection as to how it couldn't have been Rove, but completely unfounded speculation, as stated by the author himself. Read the comments for his amusement and bemusement (and perhaps even a little c-musement) on this rather ridiculous development.
posted by soyjoy at 7:40 AM on September 24, 2004

Just did a google bews search on john kerry. Top results below:
John Kerry's Tipping Point
AlterNet, CA - 20 hours ago
There is a growing sense that John Kerry's campaign has reached a tipping point. ... But facts alone will not win John Kerry the White House. ...
John Kerry: Consistent on Iraq Daily Kos
John Kerry and John Edwards will lead The Gateway
John Kerry Stands Up To George W. Bush, Leaving Bush Flat

That's just the first few results but I don't see any conservative voices there. I think if you manipulate the search terms a little you can have widely different results in your google news searches.

THE OJR article would be a LOT more convincing with some screen grabs to show exactly what they were searching for and what came up as a result.

But without the supporting data all that this story proves is "political partisan finds that his/her views are justified" rather than "conservative bias on google news".
posted by Jos Bleau at 7:52 AM on September 24, 2004

After three years, Google News is still market "Beta" and carries no advertising (ergo, makes no money for Google). The generally weird, inconsistent, potentially "gamed", maybe "biased" results on GNews are an indication that a hands-off, algorithm-driven news site is not a substitute for at least some human editors making decisions, ranking stories, moving the breaking news forward, etc. If Google wants News to get out of Beta and into Moolah, that's the direction they have to go in.
posted by beagle at 7:59 AM on September 24, 2004

"marked" I meant, not "market"
posted by beagle at 8:07 AM on September 24, 2004

see, the essential problem here is no computer algorithm can sort gold nuggets from a pile of dog turds. dogshit in, dogshit out. today's alchemists may have traded in the hats and wands for silicon and software, but they are no closer to turning shit into gold than merlin was.
posted by quonsar at 9:24 AM on September 24, 2004

is there some algorithmic explanation why i've been looking at a picture of a stoned macauley culkin on google news for a week?
posted by quonsar at 9:26 AM on September 24, 2004

If Google wants News to get out of Beta and into Moolah, that's the direction they have to go in.

Either that, or tweak the algorithm so gaming it becomes harder and it skews toward more (for want of a better term) proven news sources.

That's why it's still in beta. The bias toward opinion would in fact be a bug that needs to be fixed.
posted by chicobangs at 9:46 AM on September 24, 2004

... unless they find they get more traffic if they link to inflammatory articles.. in which case the system works fine, for teir purposes. Not quite in accordance with their mission statement, but then advertizing currupts all it touches, so that's no surprise.
posted by Space Coyote at 9:49 AM on September 24, 2004

Page-rank worked (before it was gamed) because the method ingeniously encapsulated implicit human judgment about what pages were most interesting. As far as I can tell, there's no equivalent mechanism in their Google News algorithm. The implicit metric they'd want to include would be either something equivalent to the "most noticed", or (better, but much more difficult and controversial) "most reliable".

Page-rank is obvious in retrospect because the very nature of the web means that it will self-organize according to popularity.

The way in which we document and understand the world on a day to day basis is, in an informal sense, not all that different. Imagine if all news sources used text markup to indicate citations, sources and all that sort of metadata that we now mostly have to guess at. Then, you could apply to that body of "news" the same kinds of heuristics you do to the conventional web.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:57 AM on September 24, 2004

(Correction: of course they're trying to get at the implicit judgment about what's most interesting in terms of content by selecting for the most prominent subjects of news stories. But that's really only half of what a news consumer is looking for when they go to a news provider. Yes, they want the news that is the news of the moment, but they'd rather have reliable news of the moment than no news of the moment at all. I'd bet. Maybe I'm wrong.)
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:01 AM on September 24, 2004

Google will not ever introduce humans directly into this loop, because they believe at a very fundamental level in the superiority of automated ("algorithmic") solutions over manual solutions. Google News will remain "broken" until someone thinks up a clever way to simulate balance, just as Google Search simulates relevance.
posted by lodurr at 11:11 AM on September 24, 2004

Back in 1993 I saw a demonstration at the MIT Media Lab of Patti Maes' concept of electronic news agents or "knowbots", which would scour the web for news of interest to you, "evolving" as they went along with knowledge of what you were reading and what you ignored. Kind of a personalized GoogleNews algorithm. You'd start by answering a basic questionnaire and the knowbot would go to work for you and figure you out as it went along.

So far as I can tell, that project died some time ago without any practical results, but it does seem to offer an avenue for GoogleNews: beyond just keyword searching, why can't I register with them, indicate my interests, get a personalized page, and have a personal "knowbot" at Google that continues to fine tune the page based on my behavior. So if I never visited certain "news" sources or news subjects, they'd quit showing up. (And of course, this offers a way to pitch psychographically-correct advertising at me as well).
posted by beagle at 11:22 AM on September 24, 2004

Something smells. The about page keeps mentioning 4500 sources, 4500 sources. Then they have an address to email them suggested sources. From which, one assumes, an editorial decision is made by a human or humans as to whether to include it. So they are making that initial judgement based on some mystery criteria for at least some sites.
4500 sources is a lot, but by no means comprehensive. I'd venture to guess there are at least twice that many online sources generally recognised as "pure news" sites of one sort or another. That doesn't even count blogs. I highly doubt a blogspot blog comes in on the list of top 4500 news sources. It appears that a lot of the sources are being chosen by algorithm, and that algorithm is slanted towards sites that link known news sites, regardless of their own actual news coverage.
posted by sixdifferentways at 11:41 PM on September 24, 2004

Why isn't it "Google News and Blogs?",,, kos, etc are billed as news sites. Clearly, these are sites that link to AP/Reuters and make make commentary, thus they are opinion. I think they really need a policy which identifies organizations which create news vs. ones that are almost all opinion or clearly advocates of some ideology.

That's probably quite a good idea, skallas. Granted, there are times when blogs will break actual eyewitness-type news, and provide an alternate perspective on goings-on in heavily censored countries, but in general I prefer Google News to be actual news source, as there are services like Blogdex for blogs.

Having said that, though, I wonder if the OJR article is maybe jumping the gun a bit in terms of identifying a conservative bias? I just did Google News searches on "George Bush" and "John Kerry", and both seem evenly filled with negative opinion pieces rather than actual news.

The Bush top 5:
How George Bush made Abu Graib a US brand
Why Vote FOR John Kerry and AGAINST George Bush
October Surpirse? [sic] George Bush to move Iraq elections
George Bush--Cheerleader-in-Chief
Why Medicare Reform Hasn't Helped George Bush
So, essentially all 5 are anti-Bush, two from a noted lefty blog, one from a blog I've never heard of before, one from OpEdNews (whos name is self-explanatory) and one from the Economist's editorial page. Oh yeah, and all anti-Bush and/or pro-Kerry.

Contrast with the Kerry top 5:
John Kerry's Can't-Do Attitude
On John Kerry, Leon Kass, etc.--note the pull-quote: "Certainly it is fair to point out Sen. John Kerry's inconsistencies on the issues. There are a number of them and he should be held to task. ... "
Senator Kerry's Remarks in Pennsylvania
Hasn't John Kerry Ever Read a History Book?
Is John Kerry a Man Without a Conscience, Doing the Work of Our Enemies?
Again, 4 out of 5 negative, with the fifth being a transcription of one of his stump speeches. And once again, two out of five are from a blog, Chronwatch, one from what appears to be an Alan Keyes-connected 527 organization, and two from traditional news sources, one of which is actually an op-ed.

So reviewing these--and I apologize for the excess verbiage--it seems that whatever left-vs-right bias Google might appear to have is more or less an artifact of what the "hot topics" are, and varies over time, but there seems to be a definite pro-blog slant. The excessive negativity seems to be more a reflection of the election campaign itself--not so much the tone espoused by the actual candidates in speeches or media appearances, mind you, but that taken by bloggers, op-ed columnists, and attack ads.
posted by arto at 11:49 PM on September 24, 2004

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