Doing Your Research: Getting Past Google’s Opinionated Algorithm

We recently explored the way that Google’s search algorithm skews one-sided or politically-charged search terms in favor of majority opinions. While Google can control some of the results you see, they can’t control the way you search the internet. So how can you find minority opinions, dissenting views, or in some people’s minds “the other side of the argument” when you’re searching a sensitive topic? Change the Tools You Use Google’s biased algorithm isn’t a new thing – we’ve known all along that there are problems telling a machine to parse what a human intends from a string of words. In light of this mechanical limitation, several groups have created alternate search engines. You might try your query in a site like Million Short. The minds behind Million Short asked, “What if we removed the top 1 million search results? Or even the top 100,000 search results? What would you find on the web if you could see a different section of it?” Other search engines we found that claim to be unbiased include: –          Mojeek –          Sperse –          Cataboo –          DuckDuckGo Change the Way You Think When we search in an empty text box, we tend to write phrases in the way that we are thinking them or in a way that expresses what we hope to find. For example, I want to know if it’s morally acceptable to step on ants (because I have an ant infestation and they are everywhere!). I would probably search, “Is it ok to step on ants?” or “Is it right to step on ants?” hoping that the results would be in my favor. And then yes, I could squash the little varmints! But because I only used one orienting keyword, the search engine only knows to give me the results I asked for. If I were looking for an even debate, one side vs. the other, in order to help me make up my mind, I would search “Is it right or wrong to step on ants?” [Pro tip: Google views a capital OR between terms as a clue that you want to see results for each term, not necessarily results that only include both terms. This is called a search operator. So your search would appear, “Is it right OR wrong to step on ants?”] Then I would see a mixed bag of answers. One way to perform this search for clearly defined results is to use multiple-tab searching. Open one tab in your browser and search, “Is it right to step on ants?” In a second tab, search for, “Is it wrong to step on ants?” In a third tab, search, “Morals of stepping on ants.” By using positive, negative, and neutral variations of my question, I force the search engine into giving me a wider variety of answers. Smart Searching Equals Smart Results Even though Google, Yahoo, Bing, and the major search engines may continue devaluing or burying minority opinions, you can find several sides to any issue. It just takes a little creativity in how you phrase your search queries and a little persistence. And we hope that as we start searching more creatively, the search engines will pay attention to what we’re most interested in seeing: balanced, unbiased results. [zipfinder] Illustration by Kurt Michelson Find Jess on Google+

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Jess Hutton is passionate about Internet connectivity in developing nations and a fair, open Internet for all. She tinkers with trivia, Twitter, and in-home tech.

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