Don’t Regulate Google News, Sue Them

Posted on Thu 09/12/2019 by


By David Wojick, Ph.D. ~

Now that we see the extreme anti-conservative bias in Google News search results (see my last few CFACT articles), it is time to think about what to do about it. In his July Media bias summit, the President alluded to using all the power of the American Government to address this issue, saying “Today I’m directing my administration to explore all regulatory and legislative solutions to protect free speech and the free speech rights of all Americans.”

In this case the free speech right is the right to read conservative news sources. Google’s position as a virtual monopoly, a public utility if you like, obligates it to serve this right with fairness, not with bias.

So what are some of the available approaches? (Caveat. In some of what follows I know little about the topic. My goal is to start a conversation with those who do.)

To begin with, I would say that regulation per se is not suitable for single entity malpractice like Google’s bias. We don’t need or want to regulate all search engines.
This would be an administrative nightmare at best.

For single villain cases like this, litigation is the better strategy. In fact it is standard practice in regulatory enforcement actions.

When it comes to litigation, there are both government and private strategies. On the government side we might begin with the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC routinely sues companies like Google for unfair trade practices, which this biased behavior certainly seems to be.

Given the power of Google searches, refusing to include conservative news sources is obviously unfair. The FTC can ask the Court to order Google to cease this blatantly biased behavior.

There may also be a case of false advertising here. After all, Google presents its News product as though it were objective. In reality it should be labeled “Google Liberal News.”

Then too the Justice Department should look at Google for anti-trust reasons. After all, Google is clearly abusing its vast market share, which gives it near monopoly power. The justice Department might even threaten to break up Google unless they reform. In fact several prominent people have suggested this action, both Democrats and Republicans. The FTC has also talked about doing this.

For example, Justice or the FTC could require Google to spin off Google News. Plus there is YouTube bias too, including tagging skeptical climate videos with alarmist “warning labels.” So maybe YouTube should go back to being a separate company, but under federal scrutiny.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission might even look at this case for discrimination in hiring. The Google News bias appears to flow from the actions of 10,000 or so people who rate news sources, who are probably all left wingers. 10,000 jobs is a good sized business.

However the EEOC does not list discrimination on the basis of political position as an actionable type of discrimination. This might require new legislation, which could be more broadly useful.

There may well be other viable agencies or strategies. For example the Federal Communication Commission might have a role to play, given that the Internet is a powerful form of communication.

There are also a number of private, that is non-governmental, actions that might be taken.

Class action suits by conservative news sources that are being discriminated against seems like an obvious strategy. These sources are clearly being damaged by seldom or never appearing in Google News searches, while many liberal sources appear repeatedly. These damages might be hard to quantify, but that is not unusual.

Or the conservative sources might ask the Court for injunctive relief. In this case the Court would order that the blatant discrimination end.

For that matter, users might sue Google, on the grounds that they were being denied access to numerous news sources, or that Google was using false advertising, etc. Failure to perform as promised is the general concept. Presumably there is some sort of implied contract between Google and its users.

There are also citizen actions that are not litigation. Several CFACT readers have suggested a boycott. A general outcry, or even protests, might have an impact, including motivating the Government to act on behalf of the injured citizenry.

The point is that there are more than enough levers to force Google News to be fair. The blatant anti-conservative bias by Google News must be stopped.

David Wojick contributes Posts at the CFACT site. He is a journalist and policy analyst working at the intersection of science, technology and policy.

Read more excellent articles at CFACT