The politics of search engines

posted by Jason Kottke   May 13, 2002

More from Steven Johnson’s Salon article on weblogs: “There are significant political consequences to the Blogger Effect: Because the blogging community contains a disproportionate number of libertarians, it’s possible that Google searches on certain hot-button issues will start skewing toward libertarian-friendly pages.”

I wonder if that’s true. Is Google a Libertarian? What political affiliation is OSX? Windows XP? Linux? How about IBM’s software? Even the Internet must have a political affiliation with its peer-to-peer information-yearns-to-be-free do-whatever-you-want structure. If so, will the Internet change the way people view the rest of the world politically or will its politics change as society gradually modifies it from what it started out as to better reflect the world’s political views?

More on the politics of search engines in a paper by Lucas D. Introna and Helen Nissenbaum, Shaping the Web: Why the politics of search engines matters: “Our study of search engines suggests that they systematically exclude (in some cases by design and in some accidentally) certain sites, and certain types of sites, in favor of others, systematically give prominence to some at the expense of others. We argue that such biases, which would lead to a narrowing of the Web’s functioning in society, run counter to the basic architecture of the Web as well as the values and ideals that have fueled widespread support for its growth and development.”

Also related: Preferred placement, Knowledge politics on the web (review), Are Search Engines Biased?, Google Refuses Business from Gun and Knife Advertisers (letters), AOL’s “youth filters” protect kids from Democrats, Google Link is Bush League.

Reader comments

geraldMay 13, 2002 at 2:30PM

can it be long before the corporate world makes savage inroads into the blogging community, ravaging, as they do with so many things, it’s user-friendliness and usefulness? i don’t think so.

JohnMay 13, 2002 at 3:08PM

I tend to question whether or not the blogging community is skewed towards libertarianism. Firstly, there are a lot of people who claim to be libertarian because they seem not to think being a centrist is OK because centrists don’t have a political party (though the two major parties in the US, tend to be very centrist, but that’s a whole ‘nother debate).

Secondly, there are a lot of people out there that vote for a major party despite the fact that they *are* libertarian because they see a vote for a third party as a throw away vote and pick the percieved lesser of two evils.

Both of these skew the reported number of libertarians (and every minor party, really), though in opposite directions. It is generally thought that they pretty well counteract one another, though. I would be surprised if the weblogging community is made up of really stastically different subset of people than the greater demographic group they are pulled from.

But then again, I could be completely wrong :)

davidfgMay 13, 2002 at 3:57PM

I’ve been thinking about this for a while. Not sure about the libertarian bias. But in more general terms Google is likely to reflect the views and tastes of people who have control over a site and know how to make a link. These people are not necessarily representative of the larger Web-using (non-Web-building) population.

nickMay 13, 2002 at 5:53PM

I don’t think Google’s a libertarian. But I do think it’s a fashion victim. And having been doused in Bourdieu a few years ago, I suspect that that’s not necessarily a good thing. Fashion is the agent of cultural capital, if you like, and it’s also a rather addictive drug, but it’s not necessarily good at identifying stuff of permanent value. Within the Google proposition — just-in-time value, get me ‘this week’s “this”’ — that’s fine, but it runs the risk of turning the search engine into, um, a cross between Vogue and the MTV fashion show.

JakeMay 13, 2002 at 6:58PM

How about a Libertarian Democrat?

MacMay 15, 2002 at 12:55PM

What’s so special about libertarianism anyway? Isn’t it fundamentally selfish?

This thread is closed to new comments. Thanks to everyone who responded.