There’s one big question for anyone who believes Google does not provide search results in an objective and politically neutral manner: Why haven’t you changed your default search engine to DuckDuckGo?
The internet has allowed for a democratization of information, which has been a boon to intellectual discourse. Traditionally, internet search algorithms have provided results based on popularity and relevance, in effect creating a free market of ideas.
But this intellectual discourse has been limited in two ways: First, Google began to dominate the market in searches, now accounting for 90 percent of web searches. Second, in the last few years, Google appears to have begun manipulating its search results — especially on controversial topics. This becomes quite evident when comparing Google’s search results to its competitor search engines, such as the more politically neutral DuckDuckGo.
When we use search engines, there is more at stake than meets the eye. As information science professor Helen Nissenbaum puts it, there are several implications for “venerated political freedoms of speech, association, communication, conscience, and religious affiliation.” When search engine companies conduct themselves in a biased manner, and when those companies have a veritable monopoly online, this effectively curtails freedom of speech.
In a political environment in which the facts are often disputed by both sides, it is worrisome not just that Google has such enormous power to establish fact from fiction, but that it frequently seems to do so. DuckDuckGo does not appear to similarly manipulate its search results, letting its search findings simply reflect the most popular and relevant web pages according to their search engine’s algorithm.
Bias can be interpreted differently by different parties. Yet Google’s attempt to remedy “bias” paradoxically creates bias. One way to define bias is any manipulation of search results to achieve a political or sociological aim.
Although Google might try to remedy complaints of bias with the best of intentions, its actions diminish the objectivity of its search results: Are you seeing these results because they are the most popular and relevant web pages? Or are you seeing these results because Google has decided to exclude certain web pages deemed to be “misinformation” or “hate,” based on their inscrutable standards of what qualifies as “misinformation”?
Leftist journalists have pressured Google to change everything from their autocomplete search bar function, to the Google Image results for “scientists,” to the search results for certain topics. Yet there is no need for Google to guard against “misinformation” when the free market of ideas generally takes care of that.
For example, in a search of a controversial question: “Do vaccines cause autism?” both Google and DuckDuckGo only provide search results on their first couple of pages that answer this in the negative. Both sets of results included mainstream medical websites such as WebMD and government websites such as the Centers for Disease Control.
Not only can one learn vaccines have not been proven to cause autism by either Google or DuckDuckGo search results, one can learn why people think that: It is based on one scientist’s findings that were never able to be replicated in future experiments, and was in turn “discredited by scientists.”
But on a politically contentious issue, there are more divergent results using DuckDuckGo as opposed to Google: The search term “joe biden on illegal immigration 2020” returns many conservative websites that take a critical stance on Biden’s position in the DuckDuckGo results. With Google, none of these websites are listed — instead, its search results on the same question exclusively show websites sympathetic to his position.
It could be expected that this search term would have a conservative skew, as it did in the DuckDuckGo results, because “illegal immigration” is more of a Republican framing of the issue. Nonetheless, Google did not show any of these Biden-critical webpages on its crucial first page of results.
Within its first 10 listed results for the search term regarding Biden and illegal immigration, DuckDuckGo delivers the following websites that are center-right or conservative: National Review, PJ Media, Breitbart, and The Daily Signal on its first page results. Google — to the contrary — delivers websites such as Washington Post and NPR within its first 10 results.
Yet NPR, for example, gives a positive frame to Biden’s immigration agenda, assuring readers that he will “reverse many of Trump’s most controversial actions.” The conservative or center-right sources, meanwhile, point out the possible dangers of Biden’s stance on illegal immigration, claiming that many immigrants will not show up for their court date for the asylum hearing and that they are not being properly screened for coronavirus.
This is a pretty dramatic difference in search results. Could it be that Google placed a weighty hand in the results because of the implications of this issue for the 2020 election?
The extent to which voters can be swayed by search engine results is considerable. According to the work of Dr. Robert Epstein, who testified before the Senate on the matter, search engine bias can “produce shifts in the opinions and voting preferences of undecided voters by as much as 20 percent.” Reading remarks such as this, it becomes clear what’s at stake in search engine bias: American self-governance.
Of course, the above example is just one of the suspicious discrepancies of results between the two search engines. To see the full extent to which Google is suppressing center-right news sources, you can test it for yourself with search terms of your choice.
Now, to the solution: You will rarely, if ever, stop using Google so long as it is your default search engine. Every time you type a query in the URL bar, it will go straight to Google. Realistically, you’re not going to type duckduckgo.com every time you want to search for something online.
Instead, here’s how to change your search engine default to DuckDuckGo from Chrome, and it is a similar process with other browsers:
- Click on the three dots in the right-hand corner
- Click on “Settings.”
- Click on “Search Engine.”
- Click on “Manage Search Engines.”
- Select DuckDuckGo as your default.
This way, instead of merely complaining about political bias in Google we can simply exercise our free market choice for a readily available alternative.