Google search results elevate China’s narratives on COVID origins and human rights record: study

Google search engine results reinforce China’s favorite narratives about the origins of COVID-19 and human rights abuses, according to new research from the Brookings Institution and the Alliance for Securing Democracy.

The study found that Google News and YouTube were much more likely to run Chinese state media than Google’s main search engine in response to questions about COVID-19 and Xinjiang, a province in northwestern China. China and the location of alleged human rights violations against Uyghurs and other ethnic minorities.

“The Chinese government has a robust communications machine, including mainstream global media available in dozens of languages, Chinese so-called ‘wolf warrior’ diplomats, pro-government trolls and paid social media influencers,” it said. The report. “This tiered system allows China to shape and control narratives both overtly and covertly, reinforcing and legitimizing China’s strategic messaging. Once largely defensive and designed to insulate China from alleged foreign information threats, China’s efforts to assert narrative dominance have increasingly been conducted through external propaganda aimed at foreign audiences. .

The authors of the study daily data collected over 120 days ending February 2022 on search terms related to COVID-19 and Xinjiang from services such as Google News and Search, Microsoft-owned Bing and Bing News, and Google-owned YouTube.

Chinese state-sponsored content appeared in top “all areas” search results regarding the treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, with more than 21% of results coming from state-run sources.

Search results for COVID-19 were less likely to show state-run media than queries for Xinjiang, which the study authors attributed to the abundance of coronavirus-related content from various sources. other sources, including the private and public sectors.

However, information-focused search products from Google and Microsoft-owned Bing have produced results elevating China’s state-run media more frequently than their major search engines.

“Chinese state-run media accounted for about 22% of observed pages and 25% of observed channels in search results for Xinjiang-related and coronavirus-related origins respondents in news and YouTube searches, respectively,” indicates the report. “In comparison, Chinese state media accounted for only 6% of results for the same subjects polled on Google and Bing web search.”

Google said it was working to combat coordinated online influence and censorship operations while seeking to maintain access to information as it indexed hundreds of billions of web pages.

“Third-party research shows that Google Search consistently returns high-quality results, especially when compared to other search engines,” the company said in a statement. “As the report notes, we have many product solutions in place that help people easily assess the information and sources they find. We also provide clear notice boards on YouTube to let viewers know that a news publisher is government funded. »

Despite Google’s elevation of Chinese state-run content, the study’s authors said they were unable to determine whether state-run outlets were manipulating search engine vulnerabilities. search to dominate results or if search engines respond to an overwhelming volume of content and its recency.

“While this report did not establish that Chinese state media make deliberate efforts to capture strategic search terms, the consequences for the public are largely unchanged,” the report said. “State propaganda and narratives, by design, are imbued with political intent. Even if prominence among search results is an unintended consequence of the resource advantage of state domains and the strategic use of language, the negative impact on the integrity of search environments remains.

Microsoft said Bing’s search services rely on authority and freshness to determine how to prioritize results.

“We are always looking for ways to learn and improve and review the detailed results of this report,” the company said.

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

Brandon D. James