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Search Systems & Algorithmic Bias

Search Systems & Bias (Google and More)

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. 

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.

Critically Evaluating Search Results: Top Tips

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:

  • Use specific search terms when looking for content.
  • Watch out for unrelated or outlandish results.
  • Evaluate sources carefully. Who created them? What is their motivation and their expertise? (See the Evaluating Online Sources guide for more.)

What Is Algorithm Bias?

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)