Since becoming old enough to seek out news and information outside of the local news droning on in my home (since my teachers began to ask that I do so), I have had what my parents call information at my fingertips almost literally thanks to my keyboard and the Internet. As Viadhyanathan points of in The Googalization of Everything when thanking the internet, I must also thank Google- the private company essentially organizing the world’s information and acting as the all encompassing environment of the web.
Siva Viadhyanathan’s book points to this defining organizing factor in my life –Google, gmail, YouTube etc. and simply says here it is, so entrenched in your day to day environment that you aren’t even aware of its controlling presence. But it is so defining, and so deciding over what constitutes my online experience (and therefore a large part of my day-to-day college experience) that really what I hear Viadhyanathan saying, is that Google plays a large part in presiding over my information intake. While I have information at my fingertips, Google holds it in its palm.
In terms of political communication this has massive implications. First of all, Google’s relationship with news sources is unfamiliar to most users but defines the way in which our access to news via the web is organized. Organizations deemed “mainstream” are given privilege under a category Google calls “in the news” favoring (unsurprisingly) CNN, NBCNews and Fox News. The first site listed has photo privileges, a two-line blurb, and bolds the words that align with your search, as well as stating the time each article was updated. So, in organizing what information you are shown, the size of the outlet, whether or not it contains an engaging picture, and its timing are favored. In trying to obtain information and political news for the average American, these filters act as the main communicating factors yet we largely are not conscious of them.
In our rush for news Googling current events we are fundamentally seeking a way to organize, breakdown and simplify the facts. In this way, we effectively hand over our absorption of political news to Google as the filter.
Another interesting degree of control Google has here is by essentially completing your thoughts through their search bar. So, for example, if I am trying to determine the extent of Obama’s executive order granting amnesty to immigrants (as a responsible citizen seeking all the facts and information behind a political action) Google ‘s search engine will try and complete my search for me. This is a strange way of undermining my ability to seek news out for myself, and could potentially color the way I continue to research the topic- especially in that it not only attempts to complete the search, but also provides links to the articles that align with this completion before the user has even finished typing.
Google’s YouTube video uploading and sharing site, for visual and multimedia communication, is an entirely new dimension to this issue. YouTube allows users such as campaigns, news outlets and of course individual political actors, to post videos. However, it also controls the way in which these videos are organized on their site- by popularity, timing, search terms, etc. Not just organizing, but also censoring their content as well. I find this wildly misleading considering the title “YouTube” implying that “you” the user control the content in this online community- unknowingly governed by editors- only revealed when users such as columnist Michelle Malkin protest the removal of their videos.
The implications here are that large new sources still control what news, opinions, and facts we are privy to through their filters by favoring of Google, and that Google and Youtube editors have the ability to censor material without the American publics’ aware consent- which undermines the direct access to the polity and voters appear to have to political content, via politician’s ability to post videos of campaign ads, interviews, direct addresses etc.
Viadhyanathan is right to include “and why we should worry” in the title of his book. Not necessarily because Google is harmful in the way it controls how which we process political communication, but because we seem to be so unaware that it is doing so at all.