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New study thwarts Google partisan ‘filter bubble’

New study thwarts Google partisan ‘filter bubble’


Is Google’s search engine a neutral arbiter of information, offering diverse sources for every query, or is it intentionally directing users to content that aligns with their beliefs? Is it?

That’s the focus of a new Northeast-led study published this week in Nature, asking whether the world’s most-visited search engine is creating a so-called filter bubble around its users in the context of political news, or It focuses on analyzing whether users themselves are seeking partisan information. You can create your own without significant algorithmic interference.

As part of their study, researchers used a custom web browser extension to monitor the online behavior of internet users during the 2018 and 2020 US elections. This monitoring tool is designed to measure two specific data points. Exposure, the news sources a user encounters when searching for a topic on her Google engine. Engagement, or which news sources users interact with after searching.

Christo Wilson (Associate Professor, Cooley College of Computer Science) and David Lazer (Distinguished University Professor of Political Science and Computer Science).Photo Credit: Matthew Moduno/Northeastern University

The results are based on 102,114 search results for 275 participants analyzed in 2018 and 226,035 search results for 418 participants analyzed in 2020.

The researchers found that the relationship between the political leanings of participants obtained through the survey and the number of partisan and unreliable news sources they were exposed to on Google search was small and inconsistent, and that the search results that participants chose found that relationships with were more consistent. follow. In other words, little or no evidence of filter bubbles was present.

But when researchers looked at what users chose to participate in, they found that people wanted content that matched their perspective. As you might imagine, says Christo Wilson, associate professor of computer science and co-author of the paper. People tend to read news sources that match their beliefs.

Researchers say there are numerous studies examining the role social media companies played in directing users to content that confirms their point of view, but more research is needed as it concerns popular search engines. pointed out that

These findings shed light on Google Search’s role in directing users to partisan and unreliable news, and measure both user selection and algorithmic curation when studying online platforms. It is consistent with previous research on web browsing in general and Facebook news, emphasizing the importance of Feed them, write the researchers.

The result refutes Google’s longstanding filter bubble problem, which the tech giant denies, alleging that Google is using users’ personal data to personalize search results. It is worth noting that

The company told CNBC that it doesn’t want people to use that information to try and abuse the system, so it doesn’t reveal all the elements that make up its search ranking system.

It makes sense for Google to say, “We know what kinds of news websites you frequent, and we intended to prioritize those news websites in our search results.” And people may be happier that way, says David Lazer, a distinguished professor at the University of Political Science and Computer Science and co-author of the paper. But they are not. They tend to display diverse content and diverse choices.

Concerns about potential bias in Google’s system speak to a broader debate about how to better regulate big tech companies at a time when misinformation and disinformation are so prevalent. Debate over the harm of social media companies that amplify divisive content culminated in the last election cycle, particularly how Facebook’s algorithm was at the expense of its users to be hateful, harmful and problematic. A large amount of information was leaked about whether it was promoting certain content.

The study sheds new light on how Google’s ranking system works, but the researchers said it doesn’t mean the company’s search algorithm is normatively flawed. said. They noted that some participants were exposed to highly partisan and unreliable news, which could have significant adverse effects even to a limited extent.

This effect of Google’s strong personalization of what people see based on partisanship was something we didn’t discover at all, Wilson said. We just don’t see it.

These findings date back to 2013, when researchers in the Northeast first began investigating the possibility of a Google search filter bubble.

In some ways, this is just the latest iteration of the same discovery, but it uses the best available technology, he added.

Taken individually, Wilson says that doesn’t seem to be happening. That means we probably need to focus on other kinds of problems.

Tanner Stenning is a reporter for Northeastern Global News. Email [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @tstening90.




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