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It's not difficult to understand:

Google shows users what other users like, and most of Google's current users favor a small number of major outlets.

I can appreciate that you may love RC Cola. But it shouldn't surprise you that most gas stations mostly stock Coke and Pepsi products.

If you think gas stations need to be more "fair" about which pop they sell, then I'd love to hear you explain how you think that should be done.




I think your logic is perfect. As long as you agree to treat Google as a publisher and not as a platform like it is currently being treated now.

Section 230 [1], which in theory was supposed to protect free speech, is actually doing the opposite and giving Google and other major media companies the power to censor free speech and decide what you can see or not.

I'm sure the gas station would be held liable if RC Cola made their customers sick and they kept selling it.

Google is not liable for anything they publish/display, but still have the power to choose what they publish/display.

You can't have your cake and eat it too.

[1] - https://www.eff.org/issues/cda230


> Google is not liable for anything they publish/display, but still have the power to choose what they publish/display.

Choosing how to respond to a query string is the very nature of what a search engine does. It's utterly impossible to have one without the other. The more charitable interpretation of your argument is that there should be more "neutrality" in the algorithm, but that's also difficult... Should they be neutral to whether or not people are trying to manipulate algorithms with dishonest SEO? Should they be neutral to what other users like? Neutral to who else links to the page? Who decides which neutrality prevails where they conflict? Who decides if a certain kind of neutrality is more important than user preferences or market demands?

This is a rabbit hole of mutually exclusive goals and inevitable trade-offs that requires complex judgment. Government regulation in this area would be extremely difficult and troublesome, not just for economic reasons but also for first amendment ones. Free market competition in this area is going to be limited due to economies of scale, so that isn't perfect either.

And if you think that imposing traditional publisher liability for search engines is likely to make search engines censor _less_, you might want to think a few steps further down the strategic consequences.


The only way to resolve this is to make the search algorithm public, so that we actually know how the results should be interpreted.


Are you in general violently opposed to Intellectual Property, or only in this case?


Only in this case. Search rules our entire economy and deserves a special status.


Maybe we should start with easy problems.

I'm not proposing that we have a "fair" algorithm. I think two simple actions would suffice:

1) Google (and other platforms) should stop removing content from people they do not agree with in their platforms.

2) They also should publicize why one result was chosen over the other. That would give users the necessary information to decide if Google is biased or not. Everyone would make decisions based on publicly available information.

That alone would make things way more transparent and level the playing field a bit.

Unless Google doesn't want that. If that's the case, them they are a publisher and not a platform.


Google News has no concept of 'agree with' it simply tries to find a news result based on what it thinks you want to see.

There are no politics baked in.

Google news will display what its users want to see.

Your issue is not with Google News. Your issue is with the users of Google news.


How do you know this?


> Google (and other platforms) should stop removing content from people they do not agree with in their platforms.

Citation needed.

> They also should publicize why one result was chosen over the other.

Seems like this would make it much easier for the SEO spam sites to manipulate.


Here is a list from wikipedia on twitter suspensions, not sure how up-to-date it is. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twitter_suspensions

I believe it's factual to say that significantly more "conservative-related" accounts are banned than liberal ones? Is that because "they don't agree with" the conservatives more than the liberals? I dunno.


What does Twitter have to do with Google?


@deelowe, sure.

- https://boingboing.net/2019/05/02/facebook-just-deplatformed...

- https://mashable.com/article/deplatforming-alex-jones-2018/

I can probably find a lot more, but I guess this is enough to make the point, right?

> Unless Google doesn't want that. If that's the case, them they are a publisher and not a platform.

Would you rather fight spammers and keep free-speech alive or give it up over to Google and other platforms?

I know where I stand.


> Would you rather fight spammers and keep free-speech alive or give it up over to Google and other platforms?

Spam is a form of censorship. Too much of it and it becomes a denial of service attack that makes publishing impossible.

Let's say you claim you have free speech, because you can go into any park, stand on a soapbox, and give a speech. Only, I have blanketed every major park with loud speakers that overwhelm what you say with noise, or GPT-2 generated fake speeches run through WaveNet.

I used to believe that 'the solution to bad speech is just more speech', but this was a naive pre-mass internet view of how speech and publishing works. In a word where robots can literally saturate every one of your media channels, spam up your email, your phone with robo calls, your text messages, the idea of these platform providers NOT filtering and censoring is itself a form of assault on free speech and public conversation in the town square.


I think now we are getting somewhere with the discussion. I like your points.

What you described is a real problem and I believe that’s the problem we have to solve.

I’m not a lawyer but I’m pretty sure that situations like the one you described where free speech is negated are already addressed on the law. So spammers would be treated by it.

In that case, platforms would work to identify the sources and work with the justice department to prevent specific actors from performing crimes such as spamming and DDOSing.

This would be fine, in my opinion, because now everybody would be working against known criminals with specific and objective criteria as to why they should be “deplatformed”.

However, what Google is doing today is removing or de-prioritizing content that diverge from its opinion without any recourse for the person affected because they are not treated as publishers and THAT is not okay.


Free speech has never been about having free unrestricted access to private platforms. The bandwidth of private platforms for media has always been limited, be it broadcast TV bandwidth, or the the editorial policy of news papers and their disproportionate audience sizes (sucking up all the oxygen and providing a huge megaphone). Fringe views rarely even got airings a few decades ago, and it wasn't until cable TV gave us 500 channels, did the lower scarcity of outlets bring out more diversity.

Alex Jones, for example, can run his own video hosting site if he wants. He's rich and could surely hire someone to build a site one on of the cloud providers, it's getting cheaper everyday. A big chunk of the HN audience could probably build it in a few weeks sprint on AWS on the cheap.

The whole point of the internet is that anyone can run a server on it. He is not entitled to publish from YouTube. And in fact, the argument that he has a right to be heard on there is only strengthening Google's monopoly and centralizing the internet by arguing almost the only way to host video, and exposing him to risk of deplatforming.

If you were a regular writer for say, the New York Times, or Readers Digest, or the Wall Street Journal, and had a huge audience, you had the same risk of sudden deprioritizing and deplatforming if the editor decided you were toxic. You don't have a right to free speech and free audience on private media platforms.

And let's be frank, what the tech companies are doing is responding to the public pressure, because the vast majority of people object to the content that's being deplatformed, and their advertisers object to advertising on platforms where most of the customers object to the content being associated with the product. A small percentage of angry political zealots on the extremes of both political wings are turning themselves into "victims".

The internet and web is the real public square here, the real printing press, NOT YouTube, Facebook, et al. And just like decades ago, if you found yourself unpopular and couldn't get your fringe magazine distributed on the shelves of major book stores, you'd self publish and self distribute to build your audience.

We need to get back to the way the internet used to be anyway. More people need to run their own websites.


I can't agree enough with you. Everything you say makes sense for a private company.

What also makes sense for a private company and, in this case, a publishing company is that they are liable for what they publish.

That means that people can take action in the justice system if they think a contract was broken or any sort of harm was made.

Unfortunately, that is not the case with these platforms. You can't take action against them because they are not categorized as publishers, but as platforms instead which do not make them liable for things that they would otherwise be.

Make Google, Facebook and other "platforms" into publishers and this problem is solved.


I know I will probably get downvoted by this comment, but I find it really interesting that in 2 hours I got 4 downvotes just in this comment and no argument to explain it.

I know downvoting is a tool that is available to us, but it really strikes me when someone is willing to cast a "negative" vote anonymously and most likely with no fundamentals attached to it instead of engaging in a respectful argument where all opinions are presented.


The all-too-sad answer to this is that HN, like any other forum, has a particular demographic, and the demographic here (predominantly well-to-do urbanites) has a certain political lean. People, generally speaking, can not divorce their political beliefs from their actions and act purely objectively, which, for example, is why we have laws and company rules about even creating an appearance of impropriety.

You can ask, beg, threaten, whatever all you want to for people to be objective and measured and to follow the stated principles, but people will simply vote you into invisibility simply because they have a knee-jerk, primate-brain reaction to the ideas being posted. This is not a problem that can be solved, here, or anywhere else.

It's a human problem, not a tech problem.

On that note, it's best to never complain about being downvoted. It only attracts more downvotes.


That's the sad reality I see as well.

If you look into my comments, you will see that most of them are downvoted simply because I differ from the main opinion of the demographics.

While it makes me a little sad to see an unjustified downvote I think that in the great scheme of things it doesn't really matter.

I'll keep voicing my opinion, for as long as I can even if that means I'm going to be downvoted. Ah, that includes "complaining" about downvotes as well just to fulfill the profecy ehehehe.


For what it's worth, I get downvotes for political posts too, and I'm the sort of person who thinks Nazis should thank people for the punches they get.

The notion that you're somehow victim of a political bias is not well supported. You're essentially shouting, "Debate me you cowards" and that's why you're going to get downvoted more.

As a courtesy to you, I will explain that it's extremely likely you're being downloaded because your argument is essentially (although perhaps unwittingly? who can say!) an argument to censor all tech companies as publishers. This is an argument to use the government to compel conservative speech on private industry, while at the same time not once asking questions like, "Should we then force 20 minutes of Marxist/Leninist or Anarchist (or even just a scientist calmly explaining the reality of climate change) content onto Alex Jones's or Rush Limbaugh's show?

Indeed, throughout the course of this argument you're simultaneously arguing that Alex Jones should have unlimited speech but if Google does the same thing (highlighting what they consider to be reputable 3rd parties) they should be treated as a "publisher" and subject to fairness doctrine and stripped of safe harbor.

That's an awful idea. But what's more, it's patently obvious that you're arguing a double standard to anyone who is not eagerly to use the State's authority as a literal-and-figurative club even as the State itself skirts freedom of speech laws. And as such, it's likely folks are reading your argument, assuming it's offered disingenuously, and hitting downvote.


Thank you!

Here’s my point of view. The purpose of discussion, I believe, is to convince people of a given point of view.

That is done through rational and logical debate.

So when you say that I’m inviting people for a debate I have to agree. After all, isn’t that the purpose of a public forum?

If we can’t go deep and have meaningful discussions what’s the point?

Just do some virtue signaling and bash whoever is the person we are bashing this time?

When I invite argumentation I’m honestly looking for people to present arguments that can convince me. I’m open to be convinced, just not by empty argumentation and fallacies. What I’m getting, instead, is downvoting which reinforce the bias you said I have. Right?

Also, you mention that what I’m proposing it’s an awful idea with no counter argumentation. Is this how we suppose to convince people now? Especially the ones on the other side of the isle?

I used to do that too, but then, through argumentation I was thought that it is not how it should be done and in the journey I was able to help some other people to see that too and I’m proud of it.

I think that as long as there is respect we all can have a discussion and learn from each other so for whoever reads this and see any of my comments in future threads, please know that all my positions and arguments are made in good faith and only have the goal to promote intellectual challenging.

Lastly, I have not defended Alex Jones in any comment I made. To be honest, I read and hear a lot about him but I have no idea what his thoughts are. I’m just pointing out the fact that people are being “deplatformized” arbitrarily and I don’t agree with that.


> That is done through rational and logical debate... So when you say that I’m inviting people for a debate I have to agree. After all, isn’t that the purpose of a public forum?

This is what you'd like from this forum. Actually, political debates are not what I'm here for even though I participate sometimes.

> If we can’t go deep and have meaningful discussions what’s the point?

You're not really entitled to a sympathetic audience here. Nor is it necessarily obvious that you're debating.

> Just do some virtue signaling and bash whoever is the person we are bashing this time?

If you're mad that humans tend to influence one another, why are you here? Does it not infuriate you?

And what is virtue signaling if not this very post you've written, trying to appeal to a Hitchens-ian notion that only through debate of your style and terms can we reach truth. You're constantly reminding people of the importance of debating you foe the sake of the public forum and talking about "profecy" that no coward dares to debate you. Is that not itself a kind of virtue signaling?

> I’m just pointing out the fact that people are being “deplatformized” arbitrarily and I don’t agree with that.

The guy literally went to court, swore and oath to tell the truth, and told the court his entire show was an act to sell soy supplements. He's not news, he's not a content creator, he's a weird surrealist advertiser of postmodernist medical products. Advertisers don't get free rides, they have to pay.


>deplatforming Alex Jones

Just as a datapoint, I just googled "Alex Jones"[0] about 5 minutes after your comment and his Infowars website is prominently shown on page 1 as the 3rd result[1].

I don't have a Facebook account but it doesn't look like Google Search in particular has deplatformed Alex Jones.

(To the downvoters, this thread's topic is the Columbia Journalism Review story and it's about referrals from Google Search and not Youtube. The comment by liara_k is also specifically about the Google search engine and that's what tucaz was replying to. If my screenshot of Google search engine results does not contribute to the discussion, please explain why.)

[0] https://www.google.com/search?q=alex+jones

[1] https://imgur.com/a/KDVBHcJ


This is a false dichotomy. We're not actually required to make this choice. Literally nothing forces you or anyone to use Google. The reason folks flock to their products despite costs and the occasional awkward depreciation is because they execute pretty well and they have one of the best security track records in the industry.

Attempting to co-opt that for "free speech" by injecting stories onto their pages that are more agreeable to a "balanced" interpretation is not a free speech approach.

What's more, many of the headline proposals in this article text (e.g., Kaepernick and Tax Reform) are tough to give the rightward view on without facing direct misinformation, because the politicians on the right have engaged very directly in misinformation about taxes and deliberately tried to intimidate free speech in atheletes (above and beyond what influence the average American has). Saying that any news outlet should make a special exemption for calling these out to be "balanced" is to propose that telling the truth is a liberal approach, and I find that idea pretty repugnant on it's face for a variety of reasons (not the least of which being that it gives way too much credit to the center left of America).

As for Alex Jones, I don't know how many brazen and horrifying lies you need to literally go to court and plead that you're a comedy show for before you lose the right to use the veil of serving the public interest. Is a transparent desire to lie with the intent to deceive not a DQ for being a "journalist" now? At what point DO we say, "You do you, Alex, but we're not a part of this anymore?" And if Alex gets that privilege, are you going to fall over yourself to similarly defend the Democratic Socialists of America and antifa actions? I suspect for most people that is a "No."


The two links you provided were cases where Google acts as the publisher (e.g. youtube). This doesn't apply to the premise of the article, which was specific to search and curation of news outlets.

> Would you rather fight spammers and keep free-speech alive or give it up over to Google and other platforms?

You appear to be mixing search and youtube. If I search for Alex Jones, the second hit is infowars. First is wikipedia.


I'd love to know what knobs are turned at those companies to alter results, it's something of a trade secret I guess.

Just to see for myself, I picked a search that should churn up a guy that they might find irritating and did 10 seconds of anecdotal research.

Search was 'vox day blog'.

Google, Yandex, Startpage return his blog as the first entry (perhaps after an ad). Goduckgo it was the sixth entry. Bing, it never showed up. I got bored after the first dozen pages.

What exactly does this prove? Not being a web/seach engine guy I don't know.

What I'd like to find is a search engine for which I could build a great big list of curated sites with zero results from others. I tend to look up the same things a lot and after a year or two of additions it might be a really nice thing to have.


Neither source you link even mentions google. Yes, please find a lot more. That was not enough to make the point.


Those don't appear to be examples of Google removing content.

Thus if you have more examples, I would be interested.


@deelowe, By using the word "mixing" up you are implying that I have confused two separate things, which I didn't.

They are not two separate things. Google enjoys the status of a platform in all of its products.

The links I provided talk about YouTube and other platforms and demonstrate how they act as a publisher and not as a platform and the submitted article demonstrates how search results are skewed towards a direction.

Can you please point where my argument is flawed?


Your argument is flawed because there was no evidence given of search results being censored. This is the premise of the article; some sort of biased, preferable treatment being given to certain news sites. Throwing youtube and facebook into the mix, which are curated platforms (AKA publishers) and one of which is clearly NOT Google, is disingenuous. Those platforms are not expected to be unbiased in their results.


Even if you give that Google is a platform, as Tyler Cowen artfully put it this week:

> You might be worried that, because of deplatforming, the remaining sites and writers and YouTube posters have to “walk the line” more than ideally would be the case. That to me is a genuine concern, but still let’s be comparative. Did you ever try to crack the New York publishing scene in the 1990s, or submit an Op-Ed to the New York Times before the internet was “a thing”? Now that was deplatforming, and most of it was due to the size of the slush pile rather than to evil intentions, though undoubtedly there was bias in both settings.

What do you think was happening before?

https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2019/05/ro...


This is a very weak argument. The internet has created a new environment for speech to occur, and this new environment needs to be treated fairly. Just because things were worse before does not justify the misuse of the tools we currently have to continue letting things be "worse".

Before humans figured out agriculture, people regularly starved. Would you walk up to someone starving to death today, shrug at them, and say "we used to starve all the time"? Your position is inheritly anti-progress.


This is the list of the world's top 50 news sites.

https://www.alexa.com/topsites/category/Top/News

Hardly any conservative sites make the cut - Fox News is 10th, but the Drudge Report is 23rd and the NY Post is 26th.

Meanwhile, CNN is third, trailing only Google News and Reddit. NYTimes is 4th, WaPo 11th, Bloomberg 17th and USAToday. Meanwhile, 222,000+ sites link to the NYT. Fox News has just 52,000.

Google’s algorithm lets the Internet vote on which news sources it trusts the most. As it turns out, very few right wing sites make the cut.

Perhaps not the biggest surprise, as right now, according to Breitbart, the biggest story in the entire world right now isn't Zuck, isn't Trade Wars with China, it isn't even Julian Assange, it's that Jussie Smollett's 'Empire' just got cancelled.


Your argument is essentially "the internet is fair". I was arguing against my parent, who basically said "the internet does not have to be fair". They are different arguments.

That said, the obvious counter-point to your point is that conservative sources are ranked lower because they are intentionally deprioritized by platforms like Google and Alexa. I'm not sure that I believe that, but the current state of affairs is not always self justifying.


Really cancelled? That's news to many like myself who have been following the case.

In fairness the China back/forth is static quo for the Trump era, the fact the Sweden reopening is just nonsense fake politic showboating. Empire being cancelled is really interesting and speaks to something deeper / culturally important. The: you must believe everything that comes out of my mouth because I identify as these groups who have historically been oppressed narrative has changed. People who normally would be afraid to question his story have started to. The change happened after the Saturday night live bit a few weeks ago. His responses put in that context made his side so absurd his supporters couldn't defend him.


> The: you must believe everything that comes out of my mouth because I identify as these groups who have historically been oppressed narrative has changed.

Right, but clearly not so much that Fox et al aren't running under 25% of more respected outlets numbers. If it had have changed that much, the vast majority of people wouldn't be flocking towards the latest micro update in a macro story that by and large hadn't changed in weeks over the latest update on a culture wars proxy story.


Those are overall numbers but it may increase engagement within the 25% which makes the comparison between apples and oranges. If x engages me more more products will be sold.


You're thinking about Section 230 wrong. Censorship is a government only thing. But even if we accept your definition of censorship, in google's case, there is no censorship taking place. Because google always lets every user know about every hit it found for their search at the very top of the first page of results. So if google knows about 1,690,000,000 instances of, say, "chocolate cake", it tells you that up front. Crucially, given enough time, google will always present to every user all 1,690,000,000 instances of which it is aware.

You are not required to present all of the information on your platform at once in order to be considered a platform. Indeed, it is generally accepted that platforms, by their very nature, are not able to do so.


I don't want to argue semantics, but even if we do, I would state that you are wrong. [1]

Censorship can come from anyone and anywhere. Especially when a private company like Google has more power that many governments in the world. Google could even be considered an un-elected government depending on how you look at it.

What they are doing by de-platforming people is censorship.

They offer no clue as to how their algorithm works or why some people get up on the list while others don't.

While they could theoretically show all 1,690,000,000 results, we know for a fact that just the first or second page at tops is what matters. So, in all practicality, the other results do not exist.

If the other results do not exist, then they are a publisher and should be treated as such since they pick the winners and losers.

If there's nothing wrong with what they are doing, what's the problem of calling then a publisher? Why not embrace it and take full responsibility?

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Censorship


You seem to be suggesting that by curating the content on their platform, Google is losing (or should be losing) their section 230 protections. This is simply wrong.

If I have a blog, and I ban someone from commenting, I don't lose my 230 protections. Even though I've 'de-platformed' someone from my blog. Google is no different than a blog, just scaled up.


But the guy is even more wrong than that.

He is saying that any hit not on the first two pages of google's search results, doesn't exist, and is therefore being deplatformed?

That's a ludicrous position. Those hits do very much exist, and google will display to you each result in turn hoping you find something to click on. If his argument is taken at face value, the vast majority of hits, on every search term, for every user, is being deplatformed. That's just not the case. You can't really say you're being deplatformed, because you're not on the first page.


@bilbo0s I’m sorry. Let me be more specific.

When I refer to deplatforming I’m talking about users and opinions being banned from the plaftorms (YouTube, Twitter, FB, etc).

When I’m referring to search engine results what I’m saying is that Google is promoting a few selected sites over others based on a undisclosed criteria. The undisclosed criteria here is what makes a world of difference.

By not making it clear they are picking winners and that should not happen.


On my blog I'm free to delete any comment I like, and I'm not beholden to the government to explain why I did it. That's simply the Constitution at work. How big, in your opinion, does a publisher need to be in order for their First Amendment protections against forced speech to be stripped away?


Right, because your blog is tiny and meaningless. When you control the eyeballs of a country it is a different story.


Can you direct me to the clause in the Constitution that limits free speech rights if you attract a big enough audience?


Anti monopoly laws, would be one. You can say whatever you want, you'll just have your platform split in smaller pieces to avoid harming the average individual.


If you disclose the criteria, people game it. Any ‘objective’ scheme you come up with will be overrun by scammers in weeks without constant updates from google.


So the solution is to give all the power to one company and hope they do well by us?

Just because a problem is hard to solve it doesn’t mean that an authoritarian solution is acceptable.


Perhaps we should come up with a system where people are free to use whatever search engine they like, and the government can't tell you what search engine to use, and the government can't tell the search engines what to publish. It would be so much better than the current system where we're legally required to use Google.


Because Google, along with Facebook, control the advertising market. They integrate well together, but it presents a long term problem.


You forgot Amazon, but it sounds like we've moved the goalposts from free speech to fairness for advertisers now. That's an antitrust problem, not a free speech problem.


That's what I'm suggesting @mullingitover.

It seems like you don't agree. Maybe you could make the case about the reason you don't agree and we can go from there.


"Crucially, given enough time, google will always present to every user all 1,690,000,000 instances of which it is aware."

Just on a technical basis, no, it won't: https://www.google.com/search?q=testing&start=1090: "Sorry, Google does not serve more than 1000 results for any query. (You asked for results starting from 1090.)"

Arguments based on that are therefore void.


> Censorship is a government only thing

To nitpick: no it's not. Government censorship is worse than other forms because the state is an entrenched, nearly irreplaceable power structure with lots of inertia, but that doesn't mean non-state censorship is perfectly fine.

Any platform that curates content is censoring. Sometimes that's fine (illegal content), and sometimes it's just not acceptable.


I'll add that its also worse because of government monopoly on violence.


Though corporate lobbying can co-opt government violence, which creates many dangerous scenarios.

"I see you edited our software in violation of the DMCA, the police will arrive shortly"


Are you saying that all websites protected by section 230 should be required to be neutral, and not be allowed to filter out content they don't like? Or just Google because they have so much power?


Google is supposed to be nothing. They are here to make money, and they will follow whatever rules that let them do that as long as we let them.

They are not a public service.


That's true. The problem is the monopoly position they have and the massive adoption has put them in a public role.

Everyone needs to get from point A to point B and roads are a key way that we accomplish that.

In a similar vein, everyone needs to search for information and search engines are a key way that we accomplish that.

With Google, it's almost like one company owns 90% of the roads. On multiple continents.

It is sort of like a utility company, except way beyond that.

I personally think that platforms with this scope should be built on public, open, decentralized protocols and networks. Something like YaCy might be the right direction.

Then maybe we could have companies built on top of that platform to add value. But the core functioning of the platform would be auditable.


What free speech does Google explicitly censor?


One of my big fears is the fragmentation of society and a conservative vs. a liberal internet. The echo chamber could be ratcheted up without exposure to a different viewpoint. I understand catering to customers, but I don’t see the cola example as analogous to this. With the influence that google has on search, I think they have a duty to present a balance of opinion to end users and to be unbiased.


> One of my big fears is the fragmentation of society and a conservative vs. a liberal internet

That's already true - consider a site like Reddit and the perceptions of /r/politics compared to /r/the_donald or the insulated bubble you can easily find yourself in on YouTube if you follow the recommended videos rabbit hole. The bubbles can, and already do, exist on the same platform.


1 - Too late to stop liberals and conservatives from enjoying their echo chambers. (In fact, the entire implication of the First Amendment is that different people should enjoy their echo chambers if they choose to do so.)

2 - Claiming that google influences people to search for "FOX", or "CNN" is as ludicrous as claiming that google is influencing people into searching for "how to kill blacks", or "how to make bombs". My own suspicion is that people decide what they're going to search for long before they come to google. It's certainly not google influencing people to type in certain terms on its famously empty homepage.


I don't know if Google news still has the feature, but when I used it, there was an option to raise and lower weights to certain news outlets. I found it worked less and less over time to the point where the outlets I specifically filtered on didn't even show up.

I don't believe this is simply an effect of giving the crowds what they want.


The controls have gotten less granular, and I don't see a way to add new sites to the filters without an article showing up in your results first. But they do still seem to work on personalized news such as the "For You" section.

- Blocked sources: https://news.google.com/settings/feedback

- Favorite sources: https://news.google.com/my/library

What I have noticed is that the filters don't seem to apply if you click on "Full Coverage" of a topic anymore (via the little icon with the colorful rectangles), perhaps in response to those echo chamber complaints.


If gas stations cared about the customer they would offer totally refreshing natural tap water for free, offering the sugar-drink products as a secondary option. But they don't do that, do they?

Google and the rest are pretty much the same.

Returning to the soft drinks analogy, why don't they sell RC Cola?

They buy cola by the crate and there is a better margin selling a case of the presumably more expensive crate of Coca Cola.

If RC Cola retails at 50c and Coke retails at $1 then they are not going to stock RC Cola. The supermarket are in a different situation, they are selling multi-packs and they have their own brand stuff, the RC Cola and the real Coke product for their customers, Coke having the best shelf.

If the gas station had demand from customers for RC Cola then they could stock it. However, 50c of revenue would be walking out the door with every sale of a cola-style beverage. Even if RC Cola have better margins when buying at trade that 50c difference is a big one.

The supermarket can increase footfall by offering RC Cola at a competitive price, people coming in for it might buy other stuff where the real money is made.

With the gas station a reduced price RC Cola offering is not going to increase footfall. Plus gas only has slim margins to it there is no elasticity there. The beverage and candy options are therefore really important for profit. Hence only certain products can be sold, the business cannot afford to stock anything that gets sub-par revenue or put that tap there for people to obtain limitless quantities of wholesome tap water.


Google shows users what other users like, and most of Google's current users favor a small number of major outlets...

If you think gas stations need to be more "fair" about which pop they sell

Not a good analogy. With social media and the desire to exert control over what's trending, it's more like, in the earlier days of 5 Hour Energy, when sales were growing rapidly, gas stations and convenience stores refused to try it out for reasons beyond sales. In reality, they're fairly enthusiastic about trying such things out. In reality, the space next to the register is fairly market driven.

“Getting it next to the register isn’t hard. Keeping it there? Very hard. Anything that sells, the stores will try. To own that space is really hard.”

https://www.forbes.com/sites/clareoconnor/2012/02/08/manoj-b...

Sometimes I see the entire pantheon of legacy media news channels on YouTube presented to me, when it should be obvious that I never click on those links. Funny that.


Isn’t selection like this always self reinforcing?

It’s like when Facebook or Instagram only shows me certain posts, and I react to those posts because they’re all I am presented with. Then, their logic is that I just love posts like that, and it’s all they should show in the future.


You would use a little randomness to counteract that, I suppose. Like how "heat" is used in simulated annealing.


Exactly. If some users perceive Google News as somewhat biased, it's likely to be self-reinforcing-- by nature of how Google's algorithms evolved over their corporate history.


That is a logical hypothetical, but we don't know if it's accurate.

This provides data about what the gas station is stocking, but we do not have data about what Google's current users favor. It may well be that the users do prefer RC Cola.

And setting aside user preferences, the gas station doesn't stock what people want to buy. They stock what will make the most profit. The users may want RC Cola, but by refusing to stock it they may be able to force users into buying their higher-profit-margin Coke.


This is completely off topic, but I do love RC Cola. To the point that I buy Keurig Dr Pepper stock (formerly Dr Pepper Snapple co). In many places Dr Pepper and their other sodas are bottled by the regional cocacola bottling company. I don't know if it's fact, but I always assumed the reason it's so hard to find is because Coke refused to bottle RC. Kind of like Apple refusing to let an app in the App store that competes with something they make.


Kind of like Apple refusing to let an app in the App store that competes with something they make

Well seeing that for every product Apple sells or give away, there are competing products in the App Store, there is an existence proof that this isn’t true....


There are no other browser engines in the app store.


No but there is WhatsApp, Fantastical, VSCO, Camera+, Halide, Google Photos, Evernote, Bear Notes, Google Maps, Spotify...


That's for security reasons. Apple doesn't want outdated web engines becoming vulnerabilities.


How does a browser “compete” with a non revenue generating Safari?


Because you can't use any other browser in iOS. It's not AppStore rules. https://stackoverflow.com/questions/11259152/chrome-ios-is-i...


Siri, Apple Pay, the Lock screen, the Home Screen, AirDrop, AppleTV, the Phone app, the SMS app, the App store itself.


Siri - Alexa App is on the App Store as well as Google assistant

Apple Pay - there are plenty of QR code based pay apps on the store

AirDrop - any one can write a share sheet extension to duplicate the functionality.

Phone app - there has been a voip API that let third party apps integrate with the native phone screen forever. Hopefully you don’t consider third party apps being able to intercept phone calls a “feature”? How many security issues have arisen because of that on Android?

AppleTV - you mean a remote app? Streaming from your phone - the Roku app lets you stream video from your phone and Apple just announced third party AirPlay integration.

SMS App- Google Voice. If you mean allowing third parties to intercept your native SMS phone messages, that has been one of the many security nightmares on Android.

Also “as far as the App Store itself”, the original poster said that there are no products “in the App Store”. Are you expecting Apple to sell an App Store within the App Store?


You make a compelling argument that Google is biased against new entrants into market(s).

How are people supposed to know about these products/services if Google is showing what people already like? i.e. incumbents. They are forced to buy ads!

This is just one example why it's so important to show "neutral" results to everyone. The good news is that politicians like Warren understand these issues. Regulation and possibly break-ups are coming.


Relying on corporations to be the arbiter of fairness is dangerous. I certainly welcome the new progressive agenda of regulation to keep markets free and fair.


The disingenuous bit here, is that they are not technically censoring, in the traditional sense. Instead, what Google/YouTube and others are doing are manipulating discovery/virality for their own ends.

As shown in Manufacturing Consent governments and powerful organizations can get the effect of censorship by manipulating visibility. A social climate where virality essentially belongs to just one political faction is dangerous. It would be the 1950's equivalent of only Republicans getting to appear on TV and radio.


How do you define “neutral” results?


We could start with what they had before they started biasing results based upon user activity.

i.e. What search engines like DuckDuckGo do.


People make web pages. Web pages link to each other. Page Rank finds out how important a page is, based on links to it from other important pages.

That idea is probably at the core of all modern Search Engines (including DDG).

Thus, all modern Search Engines (including DDG) are almost certainly based upon user activity. That being the users who build web pages and links to them.


Correct. I guess I wasn't clear. I'm talking about the personalizing of search results based upon search history, search terms, personally and in aggregate. Not based upon the structure of the web itself.


How is that less biased, as opposed to less personal? Or do you mean that companies shouldn’t be biased to your preferences as a customer?


Search engines could bias towards our preferences as consumers if they weren't a monopoly and didn't sell/place ads in the search results.

That's the problem with Google and I think we're too far down this path for them to fix it. We've been watching this slow walk to where they are for a long time and I think people have just become to used to it to notice how insidious the situation has become.


Is the company biased towards their interest or towards the customer's?

If Google was simply a provider of information then the answer would be that those are one and the same. But they obviously are not. One conflict that already provides an irreconcilable conflict of interest is the fact that they are primarily an advertising company - and the world's largest one at that. There are countless other issues that could also be brought up to emphasize conflicts of interest, but that's not really necessary. That their primary business is selling advertisements creates too large of a conflict of interest to ever expect "customized" search results to be anything but manipulative.


In the past year Fox News has been getting much more exposure than they ever did before. They stand out because their headlines are either the direct opposite of the other services in the same topic group or some form of irrelevant rage baiting for their base. I don't want them there and didn't ask for them.


How do you feel about conservatives ignoring news sources because they’ve been labeled “left-leaning”?


The problem is that one "gas station" is owned by iHeartMedia/ClearChannel. And if you drive onto their lot worth an RC Cola in your car, you can't get gas.

In fact, if they find out that you've ever endorsed RC Cola anywhere ever, you can't get gas.


Users often favor what is advertised to them frequently.

Google presenting particular results influences users.

Pretending that Google is merely passively reflecting user preferences rather than actively shaping them makes no sense.


Consumers favor sodas that are advertised to them frequently, too.

We are where we are, because most users have gotten us there.

> Pretending that Google is merely passively reflecting user preferences rather than actively shaping them makes no sense.

It has content and advertising just like a gas station does.

It's a market. Literally, it's a market.


Yup, a market where Google makes editorial decisions about what ads and results they show.


Isn’t that just like Safeway or the NYT? Except these companies probably exercise way more control than Google, and their customers likely enjoy the curation.


It’s just like that,

Except that the NYT and Safeway don’t pretend that their product isn’t the result of curation.

There is nothing ‘organic’ about organic search results.


I am sure both of those companies do exercise more control than Google, but they also do not have over 90% market share.


It’s not literally a market in any way.

But I agree that there are comparisons with a Gas station.

A gas station is there for one reason - to sell you what the owners find profitable. What is sold and what is displayed are chosen for that reason only.

Google is exactly like this.

What it is not, is a responsible organizer of the world’s information or a search service, or in any way responsible to the interests of searchers unless they align with the interests of advertisers.


"Consumers favor sodas that are advertised to them frequently, too."

A) Information is not Soda, it's not an arbitrary choice

B) Soda is also a physical distribution business - Coke and Pepsi dominate physical distribution, shelf space etc. - these problems don't really exist in news, or rather, in totally different ways.

So - 1) they are different kinds of 'products' in terms of their civil relation (i.e. we don't care about gossip information), and 2) the businesses are actually different.


> and most of Google's current users favor a small number of major outlets.

With what level of certainty do we actually know this? Sounds like an assumption to me.


How can this be true if their top source, by a ratio of almost 2 to 1, is the cable news network with the lowest viewership? CNN doesn't even have a show that cracks the top 25 cable news shows[0].

[0] https://www.adweek.com/tvnewser/the-top-cable-news-shows-of-...


There are people who use cable news, and consume cable news through cable.

There are people who like cable news web sites, and search for them on Google.

Let's say for instance that 2/3 of the people who search for news on Google are people who like cable news web sites. Then, by a ratio of almost 2 to 1, cable news web sites will be favored.

Rephrased: Perhaps people are actively consuming CNN through the Google searches on the web, and people are passively consuming Fox through cable.

Not that it's strong evidence, but consider: "According to Nielsen ratings, the median age of Fox’s audience was 66 in 2016." [1] [2]

https://www.cheatsheet.com/entertainment/how-old-is-the-aver...

https://www.adweek.com/tvnewser/heres-the-median-age-of-the-...


That would explain CNN being at the top, but wouldn't explain why NYT and WP outrank Fox in the audit, by a 2 to 1 ratio, when Fox outranks them on Alexa.


Some people open Fox News directly, and then Alexa thinks they're awesome.

Some people come to Google, and go past the Fox News result, and seem happy with the CNN result, or NYT, or WP, so Google thinks they're awesome.

And if Fox News viewers think Google is biased, and then avoid Google, then Google will become more biased. It's a vicious cycle, or virtuous cycle, depending on how you look at it.


I think it is partly because NYT and WP cover much larger ground and produce many more stories than Fox News. So a large number of visits to Fox News itself for stories belonging to small set of topics doesn't help Fox News with Google search results. Also, maybe reputation matters. Due to many reasons (and this is the elephant in the room I guess), Fox tends to be less objective than WP and NYT. Fox News also had to redact many fabricated stories in the past.


> Fox tends to be less objective than WP and NYT

I get where you're coming from, but if you're not a card-carrying progressive then this statement feels egregiously false. The Washington Post was at the forefront of the Covington debacle. NYT pushes editorials about how mixed race dating is bad (from a "woke" perspective), among other crazy, far-left ideology.

What gets me about this whole subject is that everyone I know who watches Fox News knows that they're watching partisan spin, even the elderly ones. It's kind of a theater of overblown, right wing outrage that they're willing participants in. Most people I know who watch CNN think that it's objective, which couldn't be further from the truth.


Because television viewership != online readership.

New flash: people aren't getting their news from TV as much as they used to. CNN's audience being mostly online would be a reflection of that.


Then why does Fox News outrank The New York Times and The Washington Post on Alexa, but both are represented at a ratio of 2 to 1 to FN in the audit?


Maybe their website has more users than their cable network has ratings.


The problem is that gas station is owned by Google and in theory the faceless algorithm that runs everything says all cans are the same but in reality the RC Cola can criticized Sergey a few years ago and keeps making jokes that reveal some uncomfortable lies and you now have to go in the bathroom and climb a ladder to get the RC Cola.


Hackers drink Jolt cola ...


You can have my Shasta when you pry it out of my cold, fat, fingers.


I guess it would be an open and shut case if Silicon Valley, Google included, wasn't either actively censoring conservatives or if "algorithm mistakes" always happened to apply to them. I'm not a conservative - but I'm not so short sighted to see that censorship could turn around on me quickly.

... Consider this from yesterday, where one of the foremost experts on the field of transsexualism, a major contributor to the DSM-V was suspended from twitter [0] for explaining transsexualism.

[0] https://pjmedia.com/trending/expert-psychologist-blocked-on-...

If "the algorithm" is ready to block anyone for anything that could be offensive to one group but actively allows threats, doxxing, and attacks on another - you aren't talking about RC Cola vs Coke.

It's not at all unreasonable to say that Google and SV as a whole are clearly biased. We don't need more ways to make a bubble, and we certainly don't need Google deciding the narrative themselves. I think the analogy to physical sodas don't really hold up to digital delivery of news. Sodas range has a phsyical limitation, digital news does not, if sodas were a digital resource you would sometimes get to try RC Cola.

Try and consider how fast it could turn around on you. Cool, today you agree that coke and pepsi are better than RC Cola. What happens when RC Cola is politically tied to Google's fate and they push that instead?


> Google included, wasn't either actively censoring conservatives or if "algorithm mistakes" always happened to apply to them

I disagree with your assessment about "always". Frequently Google results are very anti-liberal as well.

https://www.cnbc.com/2019/05/03/joe-biden-parody-website-is-...

https://www.mic.com/articles/165540/googling-martin-luther-k...

I can find more examples if you like. YouTube suggests awful right-wing content ALL THE TIME.


You claim falls apart that, joebiden.info seems to have better SEO than the real site. Just because you or I disagree with it, doesn't make it Google pushing an anti-left narrative, it could just be organic.

The other article from 2017 doesn't give me the fake MLK result, so does that mean Google DID adjust their search results?

Should Google be manually currating results? Sometimes, but I think they've proven they don't draw the line exactly straight.


You're stating your opinion in an unfalsifiable way: mistakes that follow your narrative are a conspiracy, even if later fixed. Mistakes that don't are glitches, yet to be corrected, even if they never are.

What would convince you that you were wrong?


You might be presuming too much.

Look at the examples given. One is Google doing nothing to "fix a problem" (http://www.joebiden.info) and the other demanding Google fix an issue which they seem to have done - as being anti-left. Google being agnostic and not protecting Joe Biden is not them being Anti-Left.

I will not be bullied into thinking that Google doing nothing is them being anti-left. I disagree with many of the conservatives Google that have been deplatformed, but I recognize how quickly that pendulum could swing.


A few months ago I would have dismissed what you are saying, but now I could have written it myself. It's getting easier than ever to test the bias for yourself.

I actively wanted to read some of the extreme right wing stuff. (I believe strongly that we do everyone a disservice by silencing people. It harms the rest of us by isolated us from anything not "mainstream" and it further pushes the silenced into radicalism and vindicates/bolsters their argument that they are mistreated). I literally could not find it on Google, but just moving over to Duck Duck Go I found what I was looking for right away.

To everyone down-voting the parent, try it yourself. Think about some polarizing political topic and plug it into Google and then do the exact same search in Duck Duck Go (and maybe Bing, I haven't tried that but I will). You'll be shocked at the difference.


> (I believe strongly that we do everyone a disservice by silencing people. It harms the rest of us by isolated us from anything not "mainstream" and it further pushes the silenced into radicalism and vindicates/bolsters their argument that they are mistreated).

I absolutely agree that being "silenced" and feeling "persecuted" only serves to make extreme views more extreme. But I'm also not sure the bias is only directed one way as many of the far-right pundits would have people believe.

I also use DDG and avoid all things google as much as I can but the other day I searched "atlas" on YouTube (looking for the Greek mythological figure) and stumbled across a clip from the movie "Atlas Shrugged." I had read the book in high school and I know it's a favorite among conservatives so I figured it couldn't hurt to watch so I did, without thinking much of it. When I went back to my YouTube homepage later the recommend videos were very different from any content I would ever seek out: Jordan Peterson, Ben Shapiro, the Ayn Rand Institute, and even one called "Why Immigration is Bad for Britain." From watching one movie clip.

I think Google's algorithms, for better or for worse, can very quickly discern what content a user "wants" and filters out the rest. I'm the last person to have anything nice to say about Google but I do genuinely believe it's more a case of algorithms enforcing the unconscious bias/preferences of our brains than anyone at Google maliciously "silencing" certain points of view.


Thanks for the story, that is indeed interesting. I've noticed exactly the same thing on YouTube actually. I watched a Dennis Prager video to see why he was being threatened with banning. The video itself seemed fine, but afterward all my recommended videos are "person x gets DESTROYED by Ben Shapiro". I have never clicked on one afaik.

I do wonder if these are different problems tho. One could make a good case that they aren't, but I tend to think of search results as more neutral whereas video recommendations would be highly personalized. If I use the YouTube search box I'd expect similar results to everyone. But my expectations are based on nothing except my personal subjective sense of the way things ought to be.


> ... Consider this from yesterday, where one of the foremost experts on the field of transsexualism, a major contributor to the DSM-V was suspended from twitter [0] for explaining transsexualism.

Which was revoked as soon as a human got a look.

This happens all the time on Twitter. Here's a liberal Twitter user who got suspended for saying "you really wanna die on this hill huh", which the algorithm interpreted as a death threat.

https://twitter.com/justkelly_ok/status/1125287351192698882

The current AI state-of-the-art is extremely stupid, and once you get past that the first level of human review isn't much better - it's unrelentingly boring minimum wage work. Confirmation bias turns this random capriciousness into conspiracies.


> This happens all the time on Twitter.

What also happens all the time is that accounts from conservatives get banned, while people like Louis Farrakhan can be openly and virulently anti-Jew.[1] Bruce Carroll gets banned for referring to Chelsea Manning as Bradley Manning. Apparently that's more terrible than comparing an entire race of people to termites as Farrakhan did.

[1] https://nypost.com/2018/10/18/twitter-has-a-huge-louis-farra...


Many would buy rc cola or water companies not owned by Coke. Coke/Pepsi payoff/threaten to keep shelf space away from anyone else.

Drinking Coke/Pepsi is probably worse than smoking short/long term.


>Google shows users what other users like, and most of Google's current users favor a small number of major outlets.

I would say that's partly true. The other part comes from all the flack that Google receives when they include niche or non-mainstream sources (which admittedly are more sloppy or more biased in their reporting). And it is a valid question whether Breitbart articles should be displayed alongside results from CNN or NYTimes or WaPo for generic news queries.


It costs Google almost nothing to carry another electronic news outlet, unlike with physical goods (they probably still cache all of them anyways). Very bad analogy. As an example, the cost difference from picking the best result from 1000 sites or 10 sites is probably not very great.

It just tells me that Google controls what news that you are able to see and that they are not very objective.

edit: of course I am not talking about showing bad results on your prime screen real estate... just choosing the best results from more sources (which is what I thought this article was about).


Yes it does: it costs space on the page and a lower clickthrough rate, since people aren't going to click links from sources they don't recognize as often.

Should Google start preferring some CS undergrad's uncited poorly-formatted blog instead of stackoverflow as well?


a) " a lower clickthrough rate" - the click through rate to news is not the only concern of Google.

b) It's not an argument to suggest that Google should be carrying some random student news paper. As if Google can't tell the difference between 'The Burlington Vermont Times' and random noise.


I am not sure I can tell the difference between 'The Burlington Vermont Times' and some random news aggregator which decided to filter on location.

And there are individual blogs which have higher quality / better reporting than some regional newspapers. Should those be included as well? Which ones?

Once you start making decisions like these, you are quickly getting into controversial territory. So I can see why Google prefers to abstain and say "it's all users, not our fault!"


"it's all users, not our fault"

I don't think it's 'aggregate users choice' they use, I think it's ultimately 'page rank' reputation at the core of it.

Also, I think if they were using 'user choice popularity' the news would be HuffPo, Buzzfeed, TMZ, Breitbart etc. - we on HN don't read this stuff but it's very, very popular stuff.

Consider that HuffPo for example is more popular that most news orgs on that list, and they do actually have a lot of in-house content ... so why are they not added? Clearly Google has made some kind of editorial choice.

This is not just regular search, it's news, so this becomes more important.

I don't think there is a way around having some kind of editorial opinion, so it should hopefully be transparent, maybe pliable, possibly even regulated.


So now it's a good thing that Google prefers reputable and well-known news sources over random unknown noise?


First, I did not imply that reputability should not factor into the results.

Second, the criteria for 'reputability' is a great deal of what's at stake here.


It's not about the cost, it's about presentaiton space. A gas station is limited to one fridge (say), and has to choose what to put there.

Similarly, Google has a ~5" device with about 15-20 slots to fill in.

The actual cost of buying a fridge/extra slot is marginal, the issue is the attention of the consumer.


Of course I was not talking about it in that sense. I meant that for about the same cost, they should be able to show the most relevant results from the best source, and not just a select few.


They are doing that already. What do you think "most relevant" means -- it means "the link that most people want to click on".

Now, if I am looking at the google new results, and I see results from bbc.co.uk and "Random Guy's News Site", which one am I going to click? I'd choose bbc.co.uk every time. So they will be marked as "relevant" and will rise to the top, while "Random Guy's News Site" will be marked irrelevant and fall to the bottom of the list where no one will ever see it.


It takes up room on the shelf.

It's a very good analogy.


Yep.

Unless someone comes up with a method of somehow listing all 18,000 or whatever entries on the front page, the algorithm has to choose which ones are most popular.


Well of course I was not talking about it in that sense. I meant that for about the same cost, they should be able to show the most relevant results from the best source, and not just a select few.


This is the wrong analogy.

1) "Google shows users what other users like, most of Google's current users favour a small number of major outlets"

This is only partly true, and we have no evidence of it. Google can do whatever they want their results and there are surely other factors. What are they? Why do they exist? etc.. There's room for all sorts of bias in there.

Also, I suggest it's actually not really true either: 'What people want' is BuzzFeed, HuffPo, Breitbart and TMZ. Unfortunately, that's the reality of the world. 'Most people' read that stuff. They want to know what Kim Kardashian thinks about it.

2) "But it shouldn't surprise you that most gas stations mostly stock Coke and Pepsi products."

This is a physical inventory and shelf space problem, google really doesn't have this so much: results can be tailored, represented in different ways, possibly randomized etc..

This situation is a great case for how systematic biases etc. are reinforced.




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