According to the Pew Research Center, 86% of U.S. adults say they get news from a smartphone, computer, or tablet “often” or “sometimes,” including 60% who say they do so often. Google developed Google News, a news aggregator service in 2006. It displays links to news articles organized by publishers and magazines. According to Google, the ranking of articles in Google News is determined algorithmically by the relevance of content, prominence, authoritativeness, freshness, location, and language. However, are the search results displayed on important political topics truly free of bias and impartial?
In 2020, Ahrefs conducted a study on organic search performance between Liberal and Conservative news sites and found Liberal news sites got more traffic. A 2022 AllSides Google News Bias Analysis found 61% of media sources displayed on Google News’ homepage over a 5-day period were from sources rated as on the left, with just 3% from sources rated as on the right. Northwestern researchers Nicholas Diakopoulos and Daniel Trielli found Google’s “Top Stories” section, which appears at the top of search results, favors a small number of media sources leaning left.
To determine if Google News is biased, Biasly conducted its own research in a different way. We evaluated the media sources that Google features in its news section and whether Google was favoring any specific news sources, topics, or political leanings. Google is a search engine, where news sources’ rank, and how often they are featured when searching for news on a topic determines their prominence. Biasly decided to analyze Google search results by testing out 25 different political topics (ranging from book banning to Covid-19) and seeing which 18 news sources (6 leaning Conservative, 6 Liberal, and 6 Center) are displayed and where they rank. These tests were conducted to determine if Google is biased in its approach, intentionally or not.
The analysis of Google News by Biasly found that Google displayed articles from media sources rated as Liberal or Center more often and more prominently than media sources rated as Conservative.
Data and Methodology
When conducting our research, first, we made search queries on Google News about certain topics without adding bias to the search topic (ie. “book banning”, “abortion”). From these topic search queries, we collected data to help us answer our question “Is Google News biased?” Here is the data that we collected across 25 topic search queries:
- The highest rank of a news source within the Top 20 results
- The number of times a news source appeared in the Top 20 results
- The number of articles that Google News is showing from a news source on a topic in the last 30 days within the Top 100 results
- The number of articles on a topic that the news source had on its own website in the last 30 days
A study by online ad network Chitika found that the top listing in Google’s organic search results receives 33 percent of the traffic compared to 18 percent for the second position, and so forth. Page 1 results garnered 92 percent of all traffic from the average search, with traffic dropping off by 95 percent for Page 2. Therefore, Biasly decided to restrict the ranking of news sources to only the first two pages.
All searches were conducted from November to December of 2022 in incognito mode to make sure the searches were clean of browsing preferences and in a blank google chrome profile that hasn’t been used to ensure cookies aren’t being used.
Biasly focused on 25 selected search terms:
|Book Banning||LGBT Rights||Slavery Reparations||Abortion||Should Vaccination be Mandatory|
|Privacy Rights||Marijuana Legalization||Free Market Capitalization||Affirmative Action||Immigration|
|Government Regulation Policy||Socialism||Police Reform||Charter Schools||Sex Education|
|Green New Deal||Iran Nuclear Deal||Social Security||Refugee Migration||Racism|
|Covid 19||Gun Laws||Minimum Wage||Electoral College||Islamophobia|
Using a consolidated average bias score, Biasly classified 18 mainstream news sources into three different categories, Conservative, Liberal, and Center.
|CNN||Associated Press (AP) News||Breitbart News|
|MSNBC||National Public Radio (NPR)||Fox News|
|The Mirror||Reuters||The Epoch Times|
|Politico||The Hill||The Daily Wire|
|The Atlantic||Voice of America (VOA) News||The US Sun|
|The Guardian||British Broadcasting Corporation||The Wall Street Journal|
Comparison of Topics Shown on Google News vs Media Website
For each search term or topic, Biasly compared the number of articles from a media outlet in the first 2 pages (also called the Top 20) with the number of articles available on that topic on the outlet’s website.
Here is a breakdown of three hot-topic political search terms:
- Search Term: “Affirmative Action”
When searching for the term “Affirmative Action” over the last 30 days, 2 of the 4 (50%) articles on Google News were from Liberal sources (Politico and The Atlantic), and the remaining 2 articles were from the Center (Reuters). Notably, no Conservative outlets were present in these search results.
- Search Term: “Abortion”
When searching for the term “Abortion” over the last 30 days (often spanning to Top 50-100 results), 13 of the 24 (54%) articles on Google News were from Liberal sources, and the remaining 11 articles (45%) were from the Center. No Conservative sources were represented in the search results.
- Search Term: “Gun Laws”
When searching for the term “Gun Laws” over the last 30 days, 7 of the 17 (41%) articles on Google News were from Conservative sources, 6 of the 17 (35%) were from Liberal sources, and the remaining 4 articles (23.53%) were from the Center. 3 out of 6 Center sources and 4 out of 6 Liberal sources were featured on Google News’ Top 20 compared with just 2 Conservative outlets. The remaining Conservative outlets were shown after the first 2 pages.
News Topics Ranked by Popularity on Google News
Through another experiment, Biasly analyzed popular topics shown in Google News by counting the number of articles for those topics shown within the last 30 days. Abortion was the most popular topic with 24 articles appearing in Google News search results in December, even though Roe vs Wade was overthrown quite earlier in the year on June 24, 2022. Other popular topics included COVID-19, immigration, and gun laws.
Biasly analyzed the share of Conservative, Liberal, and Center news sources for all topics. On the most popular topics like abortion, immigration, and COVID-19, Conservatives had little to no representation. Out of 20 search terms (5 search terms were excluded due to lack of data), the only topics where Conservative outlets fared better than Liberal and Center sources were gun laws, minimum wage, socialism, and charter schools. Through this, we can see Google News displays bias in favor of gun laws, minimum wage, socialism, and charter schools.
Media Source Appearances in Google News in the Last 30 Days
Biasly looked at the number of appearances in Google News over the last 30 days (within the first 10 pages of Google News search results) across all topics for each media outlet. Liberal and Center sources dominated with only Fox News and WSJ making an appearance from Conservative outlets (2 out of 6) in contrast to all Liberal and Center outlets being featured on Google News in the last 30 days.
Media Source Appearances in Google News Top 20
Finally, Biasly evaluated the number of appearances in Google News’ Top 20 across all topics for each media outlet. Liberal and Center sources dominated the rankings with only Fox News and WSJ making an appearance from Conservative outlets (2 out of 6) in contrast to 5 out 6 Liberal (the Atlantic was the only Liberal source to not feature in the Top 20) and 5 out of 6 Center outlets making an appearance (VOA News was the only Center source to not be featured in the Top 20).
The analysis of Google News by Biasly, found that Google displayed articles from media sources rated as Liberal or Center more often and more prominently than media sources rated as Conservative. The results were the same regardless of whether we looked at the number of appearances in Google News over the past 30 days or Top 20 results.
- Google News results from Liberal and Center sources dominated the hot-topic political search terms (past 30 days) of affirmative action and abortion with conservatives completely shut out. Conservatives fared better when searching for gun laws alongside Liberal and Center sources.
- Out of 20 search terms (5 search terms were excluded due to lack of data), the only topics where Conservative outlets fared better than Liberal and Center sources were gun laws, minimum wage, socialism, and charter schools.
- Liberal and Center sources dominated the number of appearances in Google News (last 30 days) across all topics.
- Liberal and Center sources dominated the number of appearances in Google News’ Top 20 across all topics for each media outlet.
- However, it is unclear if Google is deliberately ignoring Conservative sources in favor of those from the Left or Center.