“Googling it” has become the news equivalent of “do your own research.” But neither Google, nor search terms, are purely neutral. “Even in the face of research and due diligence,” Tripodi wrote in her study, “voters can walk away from Google armed with alternative news and alternative facts.”
“When you search for something on Google, our goal is to provide you with results that are both authoritative and relevant to the query you have typed. This is why when you change your query and use different words, you may get different Search results. However, irrespective of your query, we continue to be committed to providing you the information you need to form your own opinions by surfacing a diversity of sources on our Search results pages,” Google said in a statement.
Tripodi coined the phrase “scriptural inference” to describe the search tactics she observed in her field study, because the method by which the people she observed picked Google search terms was a lot like the research methods taught in Bible study classes. “The conservatives I observed all hold the belief that certain fundamental truths exist, and they critically interrogate media messages in the same way they approach the Bible, focusing on specific passages and comparing what they read, see, and hear to their lived experiences,” Tripodi wrote in the study.
We saw some of this happening in earlier research on online reading comprehension. Specifically, I had concerns about how algorithms might impact, shape, or modify what we’re looking for.