How ‘Googling it’ can send conservatives down secret rabbit holes of alternative facts

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Type “Russia collusion” into a Google search, and the search engine will try to guess the next word you’ll type. The first of those is “delusion.” For Francesca Tripodi, a postdoctoral scholar at Data & Society and assistant professor in sociology at James Madison University, the search results are a powerful tell of a phenomenon she set out to document. The “collusion delusion” results are seeking a conservative audience — which is exactly the demographic that would be more likely to search for the phrase in the first place. “No one in the mainstream media has said ‘collusion delusion,'” she said, “but that phrase has been used [by] Tucker Carlson.” 

“Googling it” has become the news equivalent of “do your own research.” But neither Google, nor search terms, are purely neutral. “Even in the face of research and due diligence,” Tripodi wrote in her study, “voters can walk away from Google armed with alternative news and alternative facts.” And, her research indicates, conservative media — along with bad actors and extreme groups looking to amplify their message to the mainstream right — have gotten really, really good at anticipating what their audience will search for and seeding their information to show up, prominently, as a result. The very searches meant to fact-check one’s own beliefs can end up simply enforcing them — particularly for the audience Tripodi studied, who were unified with their distrust of the mainstream media.

How ‘Googling it’ can send conservatives down secret rabbit holes of alternative facts Searching for Alternative Facts (read the study)