How Google is Making the Climate War Worse

Ok peeps.  Here’s something to try.  Search on Climate Change.  GO; now; do it in a separate tab and come back.  It’s OK.  I’ll wait…..

What were the results like?  Did you get lots of links to articles by climate sceptics?  Or did you find links to the EPA, some NGOs doing climate related campaigning, maybe the IPCC, some scientific sites.  Did you see both….I’m guessing no.   Turns out, because google is so dang smart, it is predicting what we want to hear and gives you the results you want to see.  Of course, if you’re looking for a new guitar and google cleverly knows that the last time you went on-line you were looking at Spanish acoustic guitar music, when you google guitars, it’s going to direct you to classical guitar sites first, not electric guitars designed for playing heavy metal.  Great.  Time saving.  Clever.  But with something as contentious (in the US anyway) as climate change, this isn’t such a good thing.  It ends up fueling what’s known as confirmation bias (a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s preconceptions).  And this just

Susan Kraemer on Matter Networks talks about the downside of the prediction malarkey.

Google tries very hard to please you by finding you more stuff just like the other stuff you clicked on last time. That is the essence of google’s great cleverness. But that very brilliance is becoming more and more damaging to the shared view out to an objective fact-based world.

If you’re a Fox News watcher, you are getting your daily diet of scepticism about the veracity of climate change, conspiracty theories that environmentalists are trying to hijack our economy by providing green jobs for their own and putting the rest of “good, hardworking Americans” on the sidelines.  If you’re an NPR listener, you are getting your (in my opionion, more balanced) daily diet of news confirming worse and worse news about climate change, more and more commentators and interviewees talking about the need to re-tool the economy away from its carbon addiction.  But for both listeners, when you go to google to check out something you heard, do a little research or just find more articles on a particular topic, the results of your google search are based on what you’ve searched and clicked on in the past, so are by definition skewed towards what you already think you know based on your past internet searches and activities. Kraemer continues:

So if last time you looked up climate change and chose to open something by, say, Marc Morano, then Senator Inhofe, and then the Drudge Report, which would all poo-poo climate change, google thinks, “oh, this moron likes denier news about climate change,” and next time, more of its top suggestions for your search will be skewed even further to the right.

As you keep heading further into la-la land, Google is there, holding your hand, assuring you that indeed, this is the objective, google-able truth. Two people with different search histories get two entirely different sets of google “facts” for the identical search terms.

I do wonder if you clear your cache, delete all your cookies and start over, what would happen to the results.  Of course, that’s not a realistic approach and no doubt google has some fancy way of scraping my entire disc and history elsewhere on social media, so who knows if something as simple as that would actually work. I haven’t figured it out yet.  If I do, I’ll let you know.  But here’s a thought to end with:

Google has become like a good but unobtrusive butler, that always obsequiously aims to please, by always giving you more and more of what you liked last time. Ultimately, as a result, we are now all living in what we believe to be the objective, self-evidently google-able truth. And we are not.

TO THE SOURCE: How Google is Making the Climate War Worse

 

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