Daily Archives: September 26, 2011

Google – the new Gatekeeper?

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One of the key tasks of the people in the news business is to decide every day which stories are the most deserving of coverage and which not. This is a highly subjective matter, because it depends on the journalist itself as well as on the editors. This difficult decision is known as the “GateKeeping” Process. The Process depends on the news values: prominence, timeliness, impact, conflict, proximity and unusual/human interest.

 

Gatekeeping is synonymous to limiting the amount of information, which means the selection of topics considered as communication worthy. The “gatekeepers” decide which events are public events and which not. This reveals that gatekeeper contribute to the shaping of society and the worldview of the recipients.

 

David Manning White transferred the gatekeeper concept to the journalism research (“Mr. Gates” and his criteria for selection of agency reports). White made an input-output analysis with “wire editor” that selects messages from the news agency. And he found out that “Mr. Gates” selects news according to subjective criteria.

I presume that search engines are as well as gatekeepers as journalists. One reason is that the WWW is not fully captured and the users rely only on a few search engines (you just “google”, not investigate). Another reason is the hierarchical order of the hit list and only a few hit list pages are viewed. According to a survey from 2003, 81% look only at the first page. The alarming thing is that users are often not aware of the distortion by sponsored search results.

With reference to the search engines I have a closer look to Google, because it is the most powerful of the Internet gatekeepers. Google also has huge influence over who can find an audience on the Web, because it controls 63% of the world´s Internet searches and it also owns YouTube. The deputy counsel of Google is Nicole Wong, who has a central role in the company´s decision-making process about what content stays up or goes down on YouTube and other Google owned applications. Which means their task is to decide what disputed material does or does not appear on local Google search engines all over the world. Therefore I am wondering if we can call Wong the most powerful woman on the net.

A good example for Google as a gatekeeper is that on the German (Google.de) and on the French (Google.fr) Google search engines you cannot find Holocaust-denial sites, because this is illegal in Germany and France. But you can find Holocaust-denial sites on Google.com.

In Germany we have a “Code of Conduct” for search engine providers of the “Freiwillige Selbstkontrolle Multimedia-Dienstanbieter” (Association of Voluntary Self-Regulating Multimedia Service Providers). Their aim is to improve consumer protection with their use of search engines.

Google also has agreed to report all the links it takes down to chillingeffects.com, which is a Website that keeps a record of censored online materials.

“Right now, we’re trusting Google because it’s good, but of course, we run the risk that the day will come when Google goes bad,” Tim Wu, a former scholar in residence at Google.

On the whole I would like to agree with Wu, because under pressure to fight against terrorist, Google could track everything we have searched for and what we are writing, to find out who we are and what we do.

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