Is Google Purging Conservative News Sites?
Noel Sheppard has a long piece at NewsBusters under the header, “Is Google Purging Conservative News Sites?” As one might expect, he answers in the affirmative.
Something frighteningly ominous has been happening on the Internet lately: Google, without any prior explanation or notice, has been terminating its News relationship with conservative e-zines and web journals.
He gives three examples: New Media Journal, Rusty Shackleford’s Jawa Report, and Jim Sesi’s MichNews, all longtime GoogleNews contributors who were recently removed from the index for “hate speech.” Furthermore, he notes that such popular blogs as Michelle Malkin‘s eponymous site and Charles Johnson’s Little Green Footballs have been unable to get picked up by the service.
The common thread is not so much conservative politics, per se, but a particular viewpoint toward Islamic radicalism. All of these sites either focus on or frequently comment in a negative manner about the connection between Islam and terrorism. Sheppard points out that arguably more radical sites that take the opposite position are indexed.
Google’s choice of news sites for scanning is inscrutable and frustrating. OTB was among them for months, often getting onto the front page and getting substantial referral traffic. Later, the metric changed and blogs were ranked lower on the results. Still, as OTB was often one of very few indexed sites covering a particular topic, the referrals were still significant. Then, suddenly, on January 7, OTB stopped being indexed. Unlike the above authors, I never received notification that my site was being removed, let alone an explanation. Indeed, several polite email inquiries went unanswered.
Several other blogs were purged at the same time although, oddly, not all of them. Wizbang and Moderate Voice, for example, are still indexed. The inclusion/exclusion criteria are not apparent. Political ideology does not seem to be decisive, as Wizbang is a relatively conservative blog.
One can reasonably argue that blogs, especially those which offer mostly opinion, shouldn’t be included in a news search engine. Indeed, I was dubious myself and actually somewhat sheepish about getting page one treatment right along with the New York Times and Washington Post given that OTB seldom has original reporting. Still, I would argue that the good blogs provide more utility that all but the best newspapers. Certainly, we add more than the hundreds of sources that merely provide AP wire stories.
Sheppard hits on an issue, though, that should concern all of us: The power of gigantic companies like Google over information. Because Google alone accounts for half of all searches, they are the key onramp to the Information Superhighway.
This penetration has given the company unprecedented influence on society. Appearing on the first page of any word search result list all but assures higher hit rates, which equates to higher revenues for e-tailers as well as brick and mortar retailers using the web to drive traffic, and more reads for news and opinion providers.
In fact, Google ranking can actually be a determining factor in the success and, perhaps, very viability of online business ventures, especially to companies with limited or no domain name recognition. This reality has given rise to a cottage industry that offers enterprises measures to improve their standings. These Search Engine Optimization companies make use of approved and, sometimes, dubious techniques to coerce better page rankings and, thereby, superior public exposure.
Sheppard notes that Google’s senior executives and employees as a whole are overwhelmingly Democrat-leaning, with 98% of their political contributions during the last campaign going to one party. The combination of incredible power and that degree of bias can be deadly.
With that in mind, how much power does a company that disseminates almost half of the country’s word search results command over the opinions of our growing population, and what protections exist against abuses of such overreaching power?
How does such a company put itself in the position of grand arbiter over what is and what is not “hate speech,” or content otherwise objectionable?
And, doesn’t this obvious gray area give such a company the unilateral ability to squelch opinions it doesn’t agree with just by applying such a vague moniker to what might be an infinitesimally small percentage of an e-zine or web journal’s content?
As comforting as the mission statement of unbiased reporting driven by algorithm rather than opinion may sound on paper, the truth is that, with all “approved” news sources contained in a single table, team Google retains complete editorial authority over the parents of the information they give birth to.
One touch of a key, and, poof: To the Google World, that news site no longer exists! Regrettably, neither do the facts and opinions contained therein.
Of course, as Fox News Channel has demonstrated, dominance is not permanent. If it becomes widely perceived that Google, rather than being an unbiased technological means for accessing information, actually has an agenda, searchers will go elsewhere. In the short term, though, Google will have substantial latitude in driving eyeballs to Web sites whose content meets the company’s approval.
Update: Dan Riehl’s Rhiel World View has been totally removed from Google. They won’t tell him why.