Donald Trump.Spencer Platt/Getty Images
President Donald Trump on Tuesday made a bold accusation: that Google is intentionally promoting negative news stories about him in its search results, and “silencing” conservative voices.
That assertion, which Trump posted on his Twitter account, is backed up by scant evidence, and Google quickly responded by saying that “Search is not used to set a political agenda, and we don’t bias our results toward any political ideology.”
Trump stated that “96% of results on ‘Trump News’ are from National Left-Wing Media,” calling the issue “very dangerous.” But that figure stems from an unscientific study conducted by conservative opinion blog PJMedia, which published a blog post on Saturday stating that the majority of all Trump-related search results on Google’s News tab come from outlets that PJMedia categorized as “liberal.”
We wanted to see for ourselves what happens when you search for Trump news in Google’s News section, so we performed a basic, and admittedly unscientific, analysis of our own.
Keep in mind that Google News uses a mix of both generalized algorithms and personalized features to generate results — so to some extent, each person’s results will look somewhat different based on their past activity and preferences on Google sites.
And of course, these results reflect just one day’s worth of popular news stories on a limited number of topics. The fact that certain publications might appear more frequently than others in the results does not tell us anything why that is the case — and it certainly doesn’t prove that results are “rigged.” More likely, the results simply reflect the credibility of the news organizations covering a given topic.
Here’s how many news articles on Google News come from publications associated with right and left-leaning readers:
If you search for “Trump Stormy Daniels,” you won’t see any articles from a major news source with a right-leaning audience.
Left-leaning audience: 15
Right-leaning audience: 0
Moderate/No clear party affiliation: 9
Opinion articles: 3
While Google Search seems to present news stories from sources favored by more liberal-leaning audiences, there could be plenty of good reasons for that.
In a handful of quick searches, there were zero instances where articles from conservative news sources appeared more often than articles from publications with left-leaning or moderate audiences. But there could be a few key reasons why Google Search showed me stories from sources with more left-leaning audiences.
One reason could be that those are the sources I read on my own time. While I don’t often check CNN and it appeared often in my results, I do read stories from The New York Times, Washington Post, and — obviously — Business Insider. I use Google Chrome as my main browser, and it’s possible that’s the reason those news sources appeared more often for me.
Another reason could be that there just aren’t that many center-right publications. According to CJR’s analysis, publications like ABC News, Politico, and CNN fall just to the left of center in terms of their readership. But there are very few similar center-right sites. Here’s how CJR puts it:
“There are very few center-right sites: sites that draw many Trump followers, but also a substantial number of Clinton followers. Between the moderately conservative Wall Street Journal, which draws Clinton and Trump supporters in equal shares, and the starkly partisan sites that draw Trump supporters by ratios of 4:1 or more, there are only a handful of sites.”
Because Google says it’s committed to “high-quality content” in response to search queries, it likely steers clear of far-left and far-right media outlets in its results to avoid biased news stories.
In other words, it’s possible that Google’s search results for Trump news are less biased precisely because of the type of publications that appear in its results.