If a Border Control Agent Is Shot and No One Hears It, Is He Dead?

Elizabeth Price Foley at Instapundit raises a question that I have thought about but ultimately dismissed: are search engines such as Google manipulating political opinion?

I’m more of a Bing.com user, but last year during the election I noticed that whenever the trending subjects on Bing’s front page were political, they were either politically neutral, supportive of Obama or damaging to Romney. At first this looked suspicious. Since workers at Microsoft trend to the left, the easiest explanation was that something dirty was happening. On reflection, though, I think that what is happening here is a cross between garbage in/garbage out and the old question “If a tree falls in the woods and no one hears it, did it make a sound?”

What I think is happening is something along these lines: NBC, hypothetically, writes a column about “binders full of women.” Later in the day, they post a story about how “binders full of women” is trending on search engines and social media. Then, the next day, NBC posts a story asking what the whole “binders full of women” means about the soul of the Republican Party. Meanwhile, NBC doesn’t post anything about Operation Fast and Furious unless it somehow vindicates Barack Obama. Thus, a non-story is promoted on search engines while a real story may as well have never happened and a biased news outlet manipulates an unbiased computer program.

While Google can be accused of political bias, say, in celebrating a figure in California labor history over one of the most important holidays in Christianity, I don’t think that the search engines themselves are being manipulated from within. The problem is that, while conservatives make fun of MSNBC’s dismal ratings on cable, NBC is just as biased online and far more popular.

Last time around, the Army of Davids lost.

Original WaPo article.

Updated: The Ace of Spades book thread has a discussion of the merits of Bing vs. Google. I like Bing because I like shiny objects, like a crow. Google is probably more thorough, though.