Google: Friend Or Foe?

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Let me start by saying I LOVE Google. I don’t Bing or Yahoo, I Google.

I use Gmail, Google Alerts, Google Keywords, and Google Analytics … And I know I’m not the only person out there who has endless adoration for the behemoth.

However, I also LOVE the idea that social media is a tool for truth. The idea that anyone with wifi and a computer can learn something completely new just by visiting Google and typing in a name, place or thing makes me dizzy with delight.

But there’s a caveat …

Does Google = Groupthink?

If you and I were to sit down with our laptops, side by side, and Google something, our results would not be the same. No, in fact, they’d be quite different. This is because Google, like other sites, uses algorithms to make Googling a more user-based experience.

Your Google search will return items based on your past Google searches, on your cookies and other various variables that this “lay person” isn’t privy to. Algorithms and filter bubbles, while providing a more enriched search, may also hurt us.

What happens if we’re looking for a clean, unbiased view? Does Google force us into Groupthink?


Civil Liberties

We are lucky to live in a country where we have access to the open internet and Google; where we are free to search terms, ideas and movements that the government may or may not support; that we are free to read about other religions and politics and an endless stream of opinions and beliefs.

Taken from SMWNYC by Brooke Ballard

So where do these “user-friendly” algorithms start to encroach on those rights? Or do they violate them at all?

In several of the Communication courses I took at Penn State, we talked about having to create your own non-biased view of the media. We were encouraged to watch Fox and CNN and MSNBC to formulate our own POV (point of view) on just one story. We were warned against watching only one of those stations, as their POV would lean slightly left or right.

That said, how can we create our own non-based view of the internet if each search engines use filter bubbles and algorithms before presenting us with results?

Tools For Truth

I’m not one to impart my ideas or beliefs on others. I’m very open to others’ thoughts and am certainly not one to bash people for feeling a certain way – especially if it’s not “my” way.

However, the internet and social sphere are full of these people. I tend to shy away from religion and politics for that very reason. It’s beyond me that we can’t just agree to disagree on some things.

If I’m telling the absolute truth, I’m nervous writing this article. I don’t want an argument or backlash to appear in the comments; though I’m desperate to know what others think about this topic.

Can we consider search a “tool for truth” if there is any sort of barrier, big or small, affecting our results?

I don’t know the answer to that. I’m hoping you do. All opinions welcome – obviously.

PS: I still LOVE, and will use, Google.

See you in the social sphere!


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Brooke B. Sellas is the in-the-trenches Founder & CEO of @HelloBSquared, an award-winning social media, advertising, and social media customer care agency. She's also the author of Conversations That Connect -- a book all about social listening and social media customer care. Brooke's marketing mantra is “Think Conversation, Not Campaign” so be sure to give her a shout on the socials!
Category: Google, Search
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20 Comments. Leave new

  • I love Google. Lurve it as Carrie would say. I am no expert in any of this, Google does tout making your experience a one of a kind tailored to you search engine. So I guess we shouldn’t be really shocked by Groupthink. We can all agree to disagree, we should be open to other opinions even if we don’t agree, we should be adults! 🙂
    That being said, religion and politics..danger will robinson…warning lights…hiding in my hole!
    Laurie recently posted…Come Together-Week FourMy Profile

    • Me too, Laurie! Certainly not a Google bash but a concept that intrigues me for sure. How do we get an unfiltered or an unbiased view? I don’t know that we can (or if people want to/care). Thanks for weighing in – appreciate you!

  • I am naive to hope that someday they will “allow” us to push a “search for results unaffected by my cookies, past searches and connections” button? Just out of curiosity, I would really like to be able to do that.

    Also, I would like a bit more transparency from Google, but that probably isn’t going to happen, either.

    I’m a Google-aholic, too. Mostly because no one else provides the kind of products they do, for free. That being said, I realize that makes me the product, for good or bad.
    Alisa Meredith recently posted…How Social Media ROI is Making the World a Better PlaceMy Profile

    • Very eloquent statements, Alisa. I don’t know how open our “open internet” (and those that service it) will ever be. Even though, as the map above shows, we are not likely to have our internet shut down by the government, the thought scares me that they ARE able to come in and say that certain items may be blocked for our “safety” or to prevent online “terrorism”. Not a political statement at all – more of a statement about the value I place on being able to have access to any information on the internet, along with my right to freedom of speech.
      It makes me nervous that Google, as amazing as they are, has the ability to block and filter they way they do. Transparency, as you said, would be nice!

      THANKS for commenting and thinking on this topic with me!

  • I agree with you. I think that Google can capture the collective mindset and make an idea seem like everyone must agree with it. That’s why it’s great to sign OUT of Google and see how the algorithms deliver information different. When I go out of the country it’s really interesting to see how the information that other places see is skewed differently that IP addresses within the country.

    But ultimately nothing replaces the encouragement to think outside the box and question everything.

    Great article 🙂

    • “Question everything” – I love that, Megha! I think using that statement to go through life is a good one; it allows us to (hopefully) pull out of groupthink and make our own assessments and judgements. I’ve never thought of Googling outside of the US and am now SUPER intrigued.
      We’re thinking about making a trip abroad this year, so that’s going on my list of things to do!
      Thank you very much for weighing in!

  • Avatar
    Randy Bowden
    March 6, 2013 2:48 PM

    Thought provoking Brooke. Could it be about owning you? Keeping you in the fence but making the room as lush and inviting as it can possibly be. Perfectly set to your specifications…

    • WOW. That’s a whole new thing to think about, Randy. It could be. With all the talk about Big Data and what advertisers and marketers need, perhaps Google is keeping us fat and happy to later farm us out?? I hope not.

  • Avatar
    Desiree Frieson
    March 6, 2013 7:01 PM

    This is a great article, Brooke. My belief is as search gets more intelligent, the non-biased view will go down the drain. The internet knows our ways, it tracks us, watches us everytime we visit a website or search for something. The filtering will just get more intelligent. I know in Google advanced search you can exclude items if you know what you’re looking for specifically but there will come a day when we won’t have to check that box or intentionally filter our own results. The web is vast and there are so many providers (third party advertisers) that know us more than we may know our own patterns. I believe non-biased search was something of years ago but its not in our future. Intelligence, big data, ethics, and privacy are just making its way up the mountain.

    • Good insight, Desiree. Do you think that big data, ethics and privacy can live in harmony? Is that possible? Or asking for too much?
      Thank you for reading and giving us your POV!

  • Avatar
    Kerry Armour
    March 7, 2013 3:47 PM

    Very thought provoking. I too, am a Goggle-aholic and I am concerned bout what it does to me as far as catering to my interests. I’ve been using Goggle against itself on that one. I use an ‘incognito’ window and compare the searches. Usually they are different, but not radically so.

  • That’s an interesting approach, Kerry. It also seems like a lot of work! I’m not sure what the answer is, but I’ve loved hearing everyone’s thoughts. Thanks for adding yours to the mix!

  • Avatar
    Carrie Chwierut
    March 11, 2013 11:52 AM

    What an interesting topic and definitely something to think about. I, too, turn to Google for just about everything, especially when I’m searching for an answer to something. They’ve made it so easy – which I love – but I can also see your point. Always best to stay alert!

  • Avatar
    Mark Salke (@marksalke)
    March 19, 2013 12:49 PM

    Brooke it doesn’t look like the backlash of contrary opinions that you were fearing… 🙂 Your question brings to mind a basic ethical issue in communication – is lack of bias and complete objectivity a myth? Not really the point of your post, but a valid follow-on question, perhaps. Google is concerned with one thing, I think: revenue. That’s a fact of doing biz as a public company. The underlying motive: the better Google search serves, the more people use it! (and the greater it’s value to Google’s stakeholders!) So Google tries to adapt its search algorithm to make our search experience ‘better.’ This begs another question: Where does Google search fit into the social media experience? Hey, do you mind if I use that as a #SMXChat topic?

    • Great addition to the conversation, Mark. Thank you. Certainly more thought-provoking talk needs to happen. I’m still at a loss for what’s “right” or “wrong.” Of course you can use this for the #SMXChat. I’d love to attend, too. Let me know!

  • Great article, Brooke! Very thought provoking… I, too, am a Google girl and use it on a daily basis. I normally log out when I search in the quest for untailored search results especially when checking placements of websites. I have one browser dedicated to removing history and cookies each time I close it. Like Megha, I have also tested searching abroad, in other states and different cities.
    Robin Strohmaier recently posted…The Secret to Growing Your Online InfluenceMy Profile

    • Thank you, Robin! It’s interesting that you and Megha take measures to try to get the best unfiltered results that you can. I’m intrigued at how many others may do this, too. I really appreciate you weighing in and adding to this conversation. 🙂

  • I love Google and use it for almost everything. I am like you, I don’t use Bing or Yahoo. What I love about Google is that it does show different results based on who is searching, what browser they are using, or what computer they are using. No two searches are exactly the same. That might be a little weird that they track everything, but at this point, I can’t thing of anything that doesn’t track your activity.

    As for group think, I could do without it. It is important to have a difference of opinion, that is how progress happens, if we all thought the same, there would never be anything new right?

    But I agree, religion and politics should stay out of the social media sphere, it seems that it causes more issues and many people don’t seem to see the other side of things.
    Sarah Garrison recently posted…Google Authorship Trouble ShootingMy Profile

    • I think we’re on the same page on all fronts, Sarah! And you’re right … I supposed we are being tracked and watched with almost everything we do these days. Thanks for commenting! 🙂


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