Monday, November 22, 2010

Distinguishing wheat from chaff in Google News

The Autocrat's Algorithm - By Joshua E. Keating | Foreign Policy:
Of course, offering news from different international perspectives is the whole point of Google News. The service was developed by Google's Krishna Bharat shortly after the 9/11 attacks with the goal, as he later put it, of 'helping people understand multiple points of view, and hence becoming wiser for it -- whether they agree with it or not.' But those points of view are often coming from state-sponsored news sources in countries, like Russia and China, where independent journalists are either harassed and persecuted or outright banned. Could Google News's level playing field be enabling authoritarian regimes to more easily get out their message?
In Google News settings, you can identify sources you'd like the Google to favor or play down. I do this myself so I see fewer results from The Sun (UK), the Boston Herald, and the Washington Times. I think users can easily identify which sources consistently present biased and fact-challenged reporting. However, I think it would be helpful if Google disclosed (maybe with a footnote next to the source?) which sources are propaganda organs, or if the classification is challenging, at a minimum which are state-owned. I suppose this might lead confusion in some cases, like if NPR got tagged the same as Xinhua, creating the false impression both sources are similarly flawed.
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