When Polimom started writing Polimom, Too at the Houston Chronicle last month, I expected to be fairly low-key. I am, after all, a “reader blog”, and I write opinion pieces.
I’m not a reporter, and I don’t work for the Chronicle.
So when, during the second week, I had a post get nearly 25,000 hits because it had run as the lead Google news story one day, I was floored.
Bloggers and their opinions have become news. Does that bother anyone besides me?
Evidently not, since there are some folks out there who are not happy that their sites have been dropped from the Google news indexer. NewsBusters writes:
Something frighteningly ominous has been happening on the Internet lately: Google, without any prior explanation or notice, has been terminating its News relationship with conservative e-zines and web journals.
The accusations – probably not unfounded – are that Google is censoring some of the conservative blogosphere because of hate speech. It seems that the sites being dropped from the news index are those that continue to deliberately inflame emotions against Islam via terrorism. However, as Booman Tribune says:
I have no doubt, having read some of the sites effected, that Google had good reasons to consider the articles hate speech. But I do wonder whether Google can craft a responsible policy that filters out certain types of speech without it becoming an arbitrator of political correctness.
Yes, one would think that Google could find a way to filter for certain types of speech. But is that enough? Given the recent hoopla as a result of Amir Taheri’s inflammatory (and debunked, and now weakly retracted) article about the Iranian dress code, I can’t help wondering what this new technology age is doing to the line between between fact and opinion. From Outside the Beltway:
One can reasonably argue that blogs, especially those which offer mostly opinion, shouldn’t be included in a news search engine. Indeed, I was dubious myself and actually somewhat sheepish about getting page one treatment right along with the New York Times and Washington Post given that OTB seldom has original reporting. Still, I would argue that the good blogs provide more utility that all but the best newspapers. Certainly, we add more than the hundreds of sources that merely provide AP wire stories.
Yes, the good blogs do provide a great deal (and I’d like to think that I fit that category…). But still…. the entire concept bothers me.
What do you think when you find something presented as news? Do you immediately put your bias filters in place? Or does the tag “news” give an opinion more weight than you might have otherwise assigned?
Given my concerns about propaganda, and related fears that misinformation is being fed into the blogosphere deliberately, I think we all need to be thinking about this.
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Update: The National Post has issued an apology (from CNN). Unfortunately, I can’t find the editorial itself online. Odd…
Yes, a bit strange. I’ve never managed even 1% of 25,000 hits in a day, but I’m a bit surprised to see some of the Google searches that lead people to my blog. Many of my posts come up in the top 10 hits for some keyword combinations — and while that’s flattering, I have to wonder why Google is prioritizing my little blog that way.
Maybe Google sees bloggers as link resources. We’re not computer spiders, we’re human eyeballs crawling the web and pulling together sets of links related to topics surrounded by descriptive text. Tapping into us could be Google’s way of cheating to get people to the results they want (not us, but what we’re linking to) faster.
I would never, however, list any of my posts as news. They are strictly creative writing, or opinion, or commentary. I would say your posts are extremely well-crafted commentary, but they don’t rise above that. We’re not out there interviewing actual sources, or mining legal documents or data sets. We’re just processing what’s we’re being fed.
As for Google deliberately censoring some political opinions — what’s new? That little “Don’t be evil” motto isn’t actually fooling anyone, is it? The power to control or direct what people see is simply too tempting to resist. In its self-righteous hubris, Google believes it can tippy-tap as far down that slope as it wants while remaining totally pure.
After all, Google’s success come from the fact that it’s so altruistic — it operates on the fundamental decency of human beings, doesn’t it? Just like communism.
P.S. So which post of yours got 25,000 hits???
It’s actually pretty interesting (and mysterious). The google indexer handles the two Polimom blogs in completely different ways. This one is never news, and the other always is. I know there are other concerns ethically, besides the one I’ve raised about opinion as news, but it’s hard not to admire the technical aspects.
And this is the post from the other blog: Osama’s lonely game It’s not the only one that’s been a traffic monster, but it was the first, and is still the biggest.
A nice post. I hadn’t come across such an angle on the bin Laden tapes, and appreciate your pulling all that together. Irrelevelant, eh? Poor guy. I’ve never subscribed to this myself, but for the power-hungry maybe it is better to burn out than to fade away …
Oh, another thought on Google indexing. I just checked my old blog and it’s still getting a healthy number of hits every day — even though I haven’t updated it since Dec 05. Strangely, when I check the Google searches, a lot of them are from Google Ireland — but I don’t see that happening on my current blog.
What does that tell me? Blogsome.com, either the company or the headquarters, must be headquartered in Ireland. And for that reason, Google thinks Irish surfers will want to read what I, an American, have to say about everything and anything more than American users would want to.
The more I look at Google, the more I suspect that the search war is far from over. Google’s secret formula takes some unwarranted (and erroneous) shortcuts. Given that, it’s strange that the world continues to equate Google with search. Perhaps it’s like the old saying that even a fool can appear wise as long as he keeps his mouth shut. As long as Google doesn’t reveal its methods, we can go on believing something really special’s going on behind the curtain.
25,000 hits – cool. I think they ought to be indexing blog posts as “opinion” rather than “news”. That would seem OK.
Polimom, found you by way of ‘Or How I learned to Stop Worrying’ (docstrangelove) blog.
In the Netherlands where I am originally from (now living a bit closer to you-Austin) newspapers were identifiable as ‘left’ ‘pro-business’ and ‘right’. In North America (incl Canada) it is not immediately touted as being from a certain political perspective, generally. Still, when you read the newspapers, you will figure out which way they are leaning. I have learned also, that when reading the editorials and the opinion pieces, to read who wrote it and what organization or gov’ agency they are from.
To cut it short, for blogs to show up alongside newspaper articles in a google search is to me not really bothersome. You always ALWAYS need to consider the source. (and read the website link, that would give one a clue)
Having said that, it does bother me that Google censors in essence. Who knows, someone at ‘G’ probably had this program that they were going to use in China and wanted to try it out here. I think it is inherently wrong to censor something you consider hateful, or inflammatory. Judge Judy probably would consider certain things ‘common sense’ and those censored sites probably would withstand scrutiny by the general ‘common sense’ public that it was so. It doesn’t make it right. Never mind that it is tackling certain hateful, flaming sites, because when it comes to providing information like a search engine is supposed to do, it is about the principle. Opinions are opinions and being the thought police has never stopped anyone from thinking what they already do. Someone who hates jews, muslims blacks, they will seek out those sites. If those sites are not available to be found..they’ll still find it. Google has become too big for its britches and it is now just functioning as any ol’ big corp that can do whatever it wants. In the information business..that’s bad news.
The fact that Google is playing favourites, in which ever way for sites to show or to lose showing, that is not good either. I think Polimom that the question goes beyond the ‘blogs, should they show or not’. I have been become more suspicious and not too impressed by Google. Perhaps it’s just time to use other search engines instead.
btw…since you are interested in propaganda, here is a book title for you:
Truth or Propaganda by Jacques Ellul. Had to read it for a ‘Truth or Propaganda’ class at Carleton U.
Btw…Forrester made some good points and as much as I’d love to go into that..I so need to go to bed…this mom is multi tasked out!
I like to use the Google News page as a wonderful variety of news and sources, but I have noticed that some stories I click on send me to a so called “news story” that turns out to be more of an opinion piece on some site I haven’t seen before. I hate to limit myself to the “old media” when reading news online, but it is often the best way to make sure that what I am reading is clearly meant to be a news story and not a blog or editorial. There are some good editorial or opinion pieces that appear from time to time, so I do like to find them, but they are listed right next to the news stories. Headlines should give them away, but it would be much better to have blogs and opinion pieces listed under another column.
If Google didn’t try to use Blogs as news sources it probably wouldn’t need to filter them on a news search. I don’t picture inflammatory language being used for no reason in a standard news story. Nevertheless, I don’t care for the good natured efforts of a filter on my news by Google. I think it goes into a free speech issue, and of all places the internet should be a safe place for that freedom. I doubt that the all powerful Google computers could consistently make a difference between someone posting plain “hate speech” another site quoting someone for reference. I would rather see Google have an optional filter on news that would be on as a standard but give me the option to turn it off.
Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I agree completely that one must consider the source in everything one reads. In the traditional press, it’s often what they don’t tell you that spins the story, and commentary / opinion tends to be much more overt in its position on an issue.
Perhaps part of my indigestion is a semantics issue? I looked up the term “news” on m-w.com, and found this:
Interesting. The word “factual” doesn’t appear at all. Yet judging from other comments, I’m not alone in expecting it to be there…. but maybe not?
Thanks for the book recommendation! It’s a fascinating subject. I’m glad you “found me” via Mash. He’s great.
Myself, I get frustrated when sites that are clearly slanted – and slanted hard – call themselves “news”. CNSNews.com comes to mind….
Your “on/off” filtering option is an interesting mental exercise. Thinking of Ingrid’s comment that people will find what they want to find anyway to support their thinking, that sure would be handy, eh?