Analyzing the Google News Bias

Continuing the on-going discussion of bias at GoogleNews, TechDirt links to this study (an MA thesis) which aims to measure the source bias in GoogleNews.

The study examines search results for evidence of bias. By analyzing the content of articles returned in searches on the major-party presidential candidates in the days leading up to the 2004 election, it aims to assess the aggregator’s level of political bias. The study looks at balance within these articles as an indicator of bias, using results from the same searches on Yahoo News as a benchmark.

The bias within GoogleNews appears to come from its inclusion of “non traditional” news sources:

Notably, almost all of the additional bias in articles returned by Google News searches can be attributed to the site’s use of non-traditional news sources. In other words, if we consider only sources affiliated with old-media companies, the average bias scores for articles on Google News and Yahoo News are virtually identical.

Among these “non-traditional” news sources are, presumably, blogs. (A list of GoogleNews sources, scrubbed by a user, can be found here). It seems, however, that GoogleNews does a poor job of differentiating between blogs (indeed, all their sources) which provide news, opinion, or even satire, treating each relatively equally. Since GoogleNews relies mostly on algorithms instead of human editors, it considers itself largely immune to bias. This view, of course, is problematic, and GoogleNews appears to be working towards some measurement of a source’s “trustworthiness”, which is fraught with its own problems.

The question of how to treat blogs in relation to “traditional” news sources is vital, albeit difficult to answer. As is the question of how news aggregators should differentiate (if at all) between news reports, news analyses, opinions and satire. In total, this is an interesting thesis project, and its good to see students working on such important questions.

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