Landman Library

The Filter Bubble and Algorithmic Bias

When you do a Google search, how are the search results ranked? You may have heard that the number of links to the page has something to do with it, or you may have noticed that Wikipedia seems to be at the top a lot. The truth is that there are a lot of factors at play in determining what you see in your search results. 

Google is a business. Their search results are their product. They make money by selling ads, which you see on the search results page and on the websites you visit. Google is really good at serving you search results that you are likely to click on. That is because your search results depend on a complex set of information about you, where you are, and what you tend to do online. When people talk about Google's algorithm, they're referring to this process of of sorting through information and serving you a personalized set of search results. 

Personalized algorithms also shape what you see in your social media feeds. For companies like Google and social media applications, their personalization algorithm is essential to their business model, so the details of that algorithm are kept secret. As a result, users may not know why they see some items and not others. 

There are benefits and drawbacks to the personalized algorithms. Regarding news sources, one potential drawback is that the algorithm is more likely to serve you news that aligns with your pre-existing viewpoints, potentially obscuring information or viewpoints that you might not agree with. Scholars are studying how this impacts people's attention to news stories and how it might impact levels of political polarization.