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.

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, Media, Science & Technology, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Ratoe says:

    If anyone thinks that Google’s Senior Executives are sitting around figuring out which blogs to censor, they are seriously delusional. All of their search engines operate on a statistical metric that their engineers are constantly tweaking the formula–not for ideology, but for accuracy. The formula is based, generally, on weighted linkages.

    Unlike the case of Fox News Channel, where people who are put off by their shilling for the Republican party can only go to only about half a dozen other cable alternatives, there are literally hundreds of search engines out there.

  2. Bithead says:

    Other points aside, ‘elsewhere’, HOW?
    You ARE aware, aren’t you James, that most other sites take their baseline feeds from Google?

  3. Aaron Brazell says:

    Umm…two words. Big Brother. No, not privacy-invading government. The new Google infrastructure is coded Big Brother and it is purging a lot of sites from its results to enhance quality. Not just conservative blogs.

  4. James Joyner says:

    Bithead: A lot of sites, like AOL, use Google technology. I don’t think Yahoo does. Besides which, it’s not as if the ability to write code is Google’s exclusive domain.

    I think this is a serious issue; it’s not permanent or insurmountable, though.

  5. Aaron Brazell says:

    I’m sorry, Big Daddy, not Big Brother.

  6. jwb says:

    Google *News* has something of an obligation to its users to only list sites that tend more or less toward the truth. All five of the complaining sites you link have demonstrably false stories currently running on their front page, including the insta-debunked Iran dress code story.

    So why should Google carry them? Finding the truth on the Internet is already hard enough without cluttering up Google News with a lot of noise.

  7. James Joyner says:

    jwb: So, for example, CBS News, the NYT, and others who have run debunked stories and stuck with them well past the point everyone else knew they were false should be banned?

  8. jwb says:

    The NYT adds enough signal (which is to say: primary source reporting) that its occassional embarassing blunders can be overlooked. But what signal does LGF add? In the best case they run a quote from a real news article and toss in a snarky comment. In the worst case, they run totally unattributed BS.

    As far as I can tell, Google News’ algorithm relies on the fraction of original reporting and the number of references. If LGF breaks a story, and other people reference that story, then I would guess they might get added to the index.

    If you look at the sites that are in the index, they all share two things: original reporting, and frequently cited by others. For an example from the left wing, see Think Progress.

    Note that I’m not saying that Google News includes all such sites. But I am saying that sites like LGF and Malkin simply don’t qualify under any reasonable definition of the word “news”.

  9. Anon says:

    Perhaps this has something to do with the blogsearch feature of Google. Perhaps these sites were recategorized as blogs, and indexed there.

  10. floyd says:

    banning OTB is proof of only one one thing, google’s hatred of free speech. no one in this house will directly use their services again.

  11. Tano says:

    James,

    The difference is that when CBS or the NYT gets caught doing that, it is a scandal, and ruins the career of otherwise highly regarded professionals. When the blogs listed in the story do it, it is business as usual. At least the MSM has some standards that they can violate.

  12. ob1 says:

    “highly regarded professionals.”

    LOL. Journalists? Highly regarded by whom? The general public holds them in contempt. Only child molesters are lower…barely.

  13. Bithead says:

    James brings up an interesting point; Does Google care about Fake TANG document stories, for example?

    There does seem some selection going on here, the parameters of which are best viewed in the light of Google being MOVEON.ORG’s biggest corporate contributor.

    And I’ve written about limits on supposed ‘hate speech’ at length, previously.

    And no, James, I don’t consider the problem insurmountable, either, nor was I taking a bite out of you. My concern, however, is that the only way this is going to be solved is proper identification of the scope of the problem.

  14. Faith Chatham says:

    People read blogs more frequently which reflect their own viewpoints and opinions. Many Americans who believed that The Bush Administration and the current leaders of the Republican party were “Conservative” are disillusioned. Many feel betrayed and are tired of the rhetoric. Many feel it is time for a change. Voting trends in states like PA show that Americans are throwing out incumbents and giving new people a chance to attempt to do better than what currently exists in government from the local to the national levels,. When public opinion shifts, it is reflected in polls, in election outcomes, and yes, in the television shows, blogs, and newspapers and radio stations chosen by the citizens.

  15. If anyone thinks that Google�s Senior Executives are sitting around figuring out which blogs to censor, they are seriously delusional. All of their search engines operate on a statistical metric that their engineers are constantly tweaking the formula�not for ideology, but for accuracy. The formula is based, generally, on weighted linkages.

    The issue here concerns Google News and you are mistaken. There’s a limited universe of blogs and news sources that are included. The list of blogs that have been removed from the news engine settles that question.

  16. Twok says:

    Well, so what? Google will push the liberal agenda, the liberals will raise taxes to punish the ‘rich’ and ‘large corporations’, and Google employees will change their mind. As simple as that.

    In fact, contrary to what some Google employees may want, Google actually helps ensure that the US will still be the only superpower in 2030.

  17. anon says:

    Recently two of my coworkers discovered they were pulled over for minor traffic violations over the same weekend. They were trifling offenses that probably should not have warranted a ticket. Coincidence? Or…. conspiracy! Perhaps it’s related to our corporate efforts to raise money for a local elementary! Maybe sinisiter local forces want to send a message to the world: people who own Ikea couches are not welcome in this town!

    Or the simpler explanation rules the day and they were both pulled over by different officers for their own reasons that have nothing to do with their personal and professional relationships.

    I’ve never heard of these blogs and neither has Google’s automated news spider. There may be a bug in the code or an inaccurate set of user complaints to trace back to, but common sense indicates that this is not a conspiracy.

  18. James Joyner says:

    anon: Malkin’s and Johnson’s sites are among the most popular political blogs, getting tens of thousands of viewers a day.

    My charge is not that there’s a “conspiracy,” just that certain types of blogs seem to get excluded more readily. And that Google’s ability to do that with impunity gives them an incredible amount of power.

  19. Hello, have a nice day says:

    I love the trust people put into corporations like Google. I heard this arguement from a lberal friend about the code, when Google News first became popular. As I told him then and still stand behind it, unless I see the code, I believe it can be written to choose which articles get the front page. I did not take their statements about neutrality at face value then nor now, and more so now after so much revelation about giving, and indexes and such.

  20. Neo says:

    Bill and Steve are laughing their asses off.

  21. gene says:

    I thought that the liberals were so much for diversity.

  22. Shivv says:

    I think some people are confusing the issue. Google the search engine does use certain algorithims to determine search results. On the other hand, the sites used by Google News are chosen by human beings. The same humans who choose to list propaganda like Al-Manar. And for the person who says Michelle Malkin doesn’t contribute to any original reporting, maybe you missed her in-depth series of posts concerning Air America and their financing.

  23. arlene peck says:

    I am the syndicated columnist/talk show hostess that Google has slandered by rating me “hate speech” . Unless something isn’t done … and soon.. this is a test, and far worse than the cartoons, where legitimate journalist are being censured Google and other sites for being “politically incorrect” in their writing. G-d help us if this becomes the norm as I believe that this is a terrible violation of the Freedom of Press. Google may not have to worry about that since they are a private company, but, the rest of us do… write them.. letters and more letters and let them know what a violation it is of all of our rights. I wasn’t even told who was my accusers were. Arlene Peck

  24. anon says:

    James,

    Thanks for the response. I didn’t mean to say that you were charging anyone with conspiracy – it was an attempt at levity.

    To clarify, I have certainly heard of, and read, Malkin and Johnson. I haven’t heard of the ones which were removed. I have no explanation for why Malkin and Johnson have never been included.

    I just feel that what is and is not “readily” removed cannot be clear to anyone outside Google, and probably cannot be clear even to anyone inside Google who doesn’t happen to be a PC. Like coincidental traffic tickets and many a supposed paranormal phenomenon, the limited set of data available to the observer gives rise to a false impression of correlation. We humans are very good at making these connections. Computers are notoriously bad at it.

    Let me give a more real-world example. I am sure a number of horse breeding blogs came into the list yesterday with the news stories of the racehorse Barbaro breaking down at the Preakness. Several news sites linked directly to blogs and veterinary organizations for more information about thoroughbred horse health and history. These blogs may be terribly popular, informative, earnest, and trustworthy, but by most conventional definitions they are not “news sites” and they probably will not stay highly relevant. In a few weeks or months, as click-throughs and referrals from other news sites decline, those blogs will be culled from the index. One might say they were false positives in the first place. If you were deeply involved in that community, though, it might look as though you were being targeted.

    Rather than looking at Google (which is ultimately, despite press blathering and geek worship, just a very clever implementation of an algorithm designed to rank academic papers) we should wonder – what brought these blogs onto the scene in the first place? What made them fall from the referral list? If they were removed due to complaints, what spurred the complaints, who made them, and why did they go to Google rather than the authors? Is there a trend in conservative websites that tends to show them as more “hatefully” worded in the eyes of an imperfect computer algorithm? (I have heard reliable stories of awful web filters that treat the very word “Islam” as hate speech – truth is stranger than fiction) What demographics come into play? Does the average conservative reader go to news.google.com and click-through to these blogs there, or does he type the address right in and reduce the click-through statistics? Can any remaining liberal bias be attributed to the demographics of those who go to news.google.com rather than cnn.com, abcnews.com, washingtonpost.com, etc? The answers to these questions can lead to actual progress. Speculating about Google’s motives doesn’t really lead anywhere, except maybe to MSN.

  25. Imre Beke says:

    Apparently Google is happy to take American money through the stock market, but it adopted its ideals when getting into bed with People’s Republic of China. The Internet was supposed to be about freedom of expression, but now we have search engine censorship filtering ideals and principles which the Thought Police find objectionable.

    I run a small, local radio program in the Mid-Hudson Valley of New York and dread the day when people like me will also be censored because we tell the truth.

    Google should be ashamed.

    Imre Beke, Right Time Radio
    http://www.righttimeradio.com
    http://www.cafepress.com/vocalright

  26. Jim Wrenn says:

    Although a quite small fish in the big pond, I’m still in GoogleNews (as PoliSat.Com), which classifies PoliSat.com as “satire,” but it’s surely not leftist satire. Nevertheless, making Google the object of rather brutal (but plainly justified) satire in GoogleNews in a piece titled “Google Gargles Gorgle” — Here’s the link picked up in Google News 30-day Data base at the time (Aug. 1, 2005), and here’s the permanent link— didn’t lead GoogleNews to delete PoliSat.Com from the GoogleNews Data Base. That wasn’t the first time PoliSat.Com targeted Google. The first was “Google, Gorgle or Gargoyle,” on April 12, 2005. For that one, here’s the link picked up by GoogleNews and here’s the permanent link. As of today (May 23, 2006), PoliSat.Com is still in GoogleNews. Nevertheless, the political leanings of Google are so far to the left of center that someone in the blogosphere should maintain regular analysis of sites kept within, and sites dropped from, Google. I’ll bet there’s an ingenious programmer out there in the right-of-center part of the spectrum willing to do that. Such a monitoring service would probably quickly become a cash cow. I wish I had the technical skills to do it. I’ve just acquired the following domain name “RightPerspectiveOnGoogle.Com,” so if there’s such a person out there interested in collaborating, contact me at Editor@WrennCom.Com. This is a way to help keep an eye on Google.
    Jim
    Wrenn, Jim, Editor@PoliSat.Com; Editor@WrennCom.Com

  27. ahem says:

    I thought that the liberals were so much for diversity.

    Yes, and that’s why Little Green Footballs entries don’t show up on searches for streets in Dearborn on Google Maps. What absolute bias!

    If you’re that concerned, create your own search engine indexing right-wing blogs alongside mainstream news sources. If the market wants it, it’ll be a success. I thought that conservatives trusted in the power of the free market?

  28. Hal says:

    Hahahahahahahahahahahaha

    Just got to say it’s pretty funny to see the angry little fists shaking at the sky from the right for a change.

  29. JWB ACTUALLY SAID THIS –

    Google *News* has something of an obligation to its users to only list sites that tend more or less toward the truth. All five of the complaining sites you link have demonstrably false stories currently running on their front page, including the insta-debunked Iran dress code story.

    So why should Google carry them? Finding the truth on the Internet is already hard enough without cluttering up Google News with a lot of noise.

    Gee that’s why they run AL MANAR.
    I wonder can Google “EDIT OUT” what I should and should not read about anything else? I much prefer their ideas as to what is “information worthy” and what is not.

    They can’t even keep out blatant hate sites like Vanguard if not for the same “unworthy” conservative blogs pointing out their own fing embarassing idiocy.

    Mainstream Media ‘reporting’ news or ‘not’?
    Google News includes terrorist organizations

    Whenever I post about Google News, a misunderstanding always comes up; please note that Google Search uses automatic methods to crawl around the web and add sites to their index, but Google News sources are chosen and approved by human beings at Google. This means that Google deliberately added Al-Manar to their index after reviewing it.

    Entry the Problem with Al Manar Ironically explains in Update –

    I just learned that, in refusing to list a website called Alain’s Newsletter as a Google News source, the Google team explained:
    “We’ve reviewed your site and cannot include it in Google News at this time. While we make an effort to provide a well-rounded perspective on controversial topics by including sites that represent contrasting points of view, we do not include sites that contain hate speech.”
    If Hizballah’s al-Manar isn’t hate speech, I don’t know what is.

    GOOGLE IS OFFICIALLY FILTERING INFORMATION FOR CHINA (“The example of Orwell’s Nightmare) MEANWHILE THEY ARE PURGING
    ALL GOOGLE SEARCH INDEXES OF THE anti-Communist anti-China Website People’s Cube

    While jihad sites openly advocating for Al Qaeda continue to be included, both in Googleâ??s search index and as legitimate news at Google News.

    Random Searches like this often hit Arab propogandist sites like the Saudi Arab “News”

    UFO SITES QUALIFY THOUGH LOL

  30. Jim Parshall says:

    Some have stated here (like your first commenter) that Google uses a purely mathematical basis to list news. This is untrue. Google does use that method for its general search listings, but does, in fact, use humans to choose which news sources to list on Google News. They most certainly do have the capability to index whomever and whatever they wish.

    It appears the company with the motto of “Do No Evil” has learned at least one thing from their alliance with the Communist government of China.

    They have certainly learned how to purge content that does not hold up their ( liberal and “progressive” ) world view.

    No shock to me really. I work in the high-tech industry at a pretty high level ( training and programming for very large companies and governments ) and Google has manually massaged results even in its regular index. They also show just about total Democrat campaign contribution ( really it is over 90% if I remember correctly ). Communists also believe “the ends justify the means” so any misleading or bias in the news they report is justified to push their world view. It is too bad Microsoft Search is so bad as I hate supporting people who have had a track record of spin for a very long time while refusing to admit it.

    Rush, O’Reilly, Savage, Franken et. al. at least admit they are partisan. Google will not. Again, a wonderful lesson they have learned from their Marxist role models.

    Progressive = Communist = Against the West
    Read it. Learn it. Never forget it.

    Thanks for your time Jim

  31. Joe says:

    Seeing as how 3 of the headline stories on Google are linking to FoxNews and 2 are linking to the Washington Post, the answer is: No.

    If they wanted to blow away conservative news, I’m sure they could figure out a better way to do it than deleting a few minor blogs.

  32. yank in london says:

    I have complained to Google in the past about the inclusion of what are predominately comment & opinion sites (left, right and centre) in it’s news aggregator. Good to see it’s having some effect!