Do Web search engines suppress controversy?


  • Susan Gerhart



Do Web search engines suppress controversy? by Susan L. Gerhart Web behavior depends upon three interlocking communities: (1) authors whose Web pages link to other pages; (2) search engines indexing and ranking those pages; and (3) information seekers whose queries and surfing reward authors and support search engines. Systematic suppression of controversial topics would indicate a flaw in the Web’s ideology of openness and informativeness. This paper explores search engines’ bias by asking: Is a specific well–known controversy revealed in a simple search? Experimental topics include: distance learning, Albert Einstein, St. John’s Wort, female astronauts, and Belize. The experiments suggest simple queries tend to overly present the "sunny side" of these topics, with minimal controversy. A more "Objective Web" is analyzed where: (a) Web page authors adopt research citation practices; (b) search engines balance organizational and analytic content; and, (c) searchers practice more wary multi–searching.




How to Cite

Gerhart, S. (2004). Do Web search engines suppress controversy?. First Monday, 9(1).