This guide, originally created by Andrea Baer (Rowan University), is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC-BY-NC-SA).
People tend to think of technology and search engines like Google as neutral and unbiased. But technologies and search engine algorithms reflect larger societal biases.
There are a good number of people who are working actively to minimize and counteract the negative effects of bias in search systems. But this bias is still prevalent. One thing you can do immediately is to increase your awareness of these biases and to develop search and evaluation strategies that work to question those biases. Many digital privacy tools and practices can also help to minimize how much algorithmic bias influences your search result, though there is no easy fix.
This guide will help you get a basic understanding of search systems and bias and how to challenge them. Start with this introductory page and then move on to Search Engines & Societal Biases.
This short video discusses some of the advantages and disadvantages of using Google. Google's personalization of search results and its continual tweaking of search results, based on what others search and click on, reflects both advantages and disadvantages of using it.
The short video below is an basic introduction to how Google search results are generated. It demonstrates the importance of being aware of biases that may be reflected in your search results and of making Google only one of the research tools that you use.
Video: Using Google (KU Libraries)
In this TED Talk, "The Era of Blind Faith in Big Data Must End," mathematician Cathy O'Neill discusses how algorithms often make automated decisions that influence people's everyday things in very tangible ways, including who gets a loan, who gets an interview or a pay raise, and even who keeps their job. Blind faith can perpetuate inequities and injustices that result from many of the decisions that are driven by algorithms.
Search engine algorithms are sequenced formulas that determine the results you see when you search for something. These algorithms are complex: they take into account not only your search terms and the assumed relevance of sources related to those terms, but also things like your past searches, personal preferences, and location; what other people have searched for and clicked on; and in some cases if a company has paid for their results to show up sooner.
This video gives a quick overview of how algorithmic bias can influence what information you get using different online platforms.
Video: Algorithmic Bias Explained (Institute for Public Policy Research)
Safiya Umoja Noble offers these key tips for how to avoid misleading search results in the video "YouTube Algorithms: How to Avoid the Rabbit Hole" . These tips are useful in any search system: