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Media Literacy: Search Engine & Algorithmic Bias

Can Internet Search Engines Have Bias?

Yes. Behind every internet search engine is a set of instructions, called an algorithm, that determines which results best match your query and in what order they should appear. These algorithms reflect the implicit or explicit biases of the people who program them. This is called "algorithmic bias." Companies like Google have the ability to change their algorithms, but when and how to do so is a matter of ethical debate; these choices also reflect bias.

Your search results also reflect your own implicit and explicit biases. If you use keywords that favor a particular point of view, you'll usually find more results that favor that point of view. Furthermore, search engine algorithms, like the algorithms that control your social media feeds, use data gathered about you from your online behavior. Thus, your results are not the same as someone else's for the same query! They vary based on your gender, age, location and other personal characteristics, as well as content you've liked or clicked on before. If you consistently like and click on content that favors a certain point of view, your search results and social media feeds may tend to reflect that point of view. This phenomenon is popularly known as a "filter bubble." Filter bubbles may lead to polarization by isolating people from competing points of view.

Also keep in mind: Search engine results often contain sponsored content (advertisements), also personalized to you, that can be (purposely) difficult to discern from actual search results.

The Valencia College libraries do not welcome solicitation of resources to be added to our LibGuides. This includes but is not limited to vendors, search engine optimizers, placement of ads, products, or any other requests. Our LibGuides are carefully curated resources developed in partnership with faculty, staff, and students to support specific assignments, courses, events, and other related purposes at Valencia College. The Valencia libraries reserve the right to ignore LibGuide resource solicitations, and/or block persistent requests from groups or individuals to add or promote links in our LibGuides.