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As you probably know, Google, Facebook, and other news aggregators work very hard to please you. In fact, they’re sort of like the creepiest guy you could imagine dating. (Adapt the simile as appropriate, if you date ladies.)
They study every term you search and think deeply about what it says about you. They remember every link you’ve ever clicked, and they ask themselves, thoughtfully, “What does it mean that she was interested in that?” They keep a list of all your friends. They study what your friends search for and what they click. They know where you live. They know what you buy. They know when you’re sleeping, they know when you’re awake, they know when you’ve been good or bad, and they know when you’ve got a touch of the flu.
They’re fascinated to discover that you like certain sports teams — wow, she likes Ronda Rousey too, we’re perfect for each other. They know who your favorite celebrities are, and they can even tell if you’re pregnant before you can. (They don’t even mind if it’s not their child — that’s how much they love you.)
And because they just want to make you happy, they spend their every nanosecond trying to figure out what you might like to see next on the Internet. They hope that if they prove they know you even better than you know yourself, and can anticipate your every wish, then maybe, just maybe, you’ll fall in love with them and never leave them — or at least, that you’ll buy something from one of their advertisers.
Sadly, as with all such ardent suitors, the worrying part is that the courtship phase probably won’t last forever. After they’re done watching every every breath you take, every move you make, every bond you break, and every step you take, their love could easily become a bit controlling. Abusive, even. For example, Google might start telling you for whom you should vote:
Google’s ranking algorithm for search results could accidentally steal the presidency. “We estimate, based on win margins in national elections around the world,” says Robert Epstein, a psychologist at the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology and one of the study’s authors, “that Google could determine the outcome of upwards of 25 percent of all national elections.”
“Accidentally” is not necessarily how that would happen, by the way, but let’s give them the benefit of the doubt; after all, even though Google is racing to be the the first company on a US-listed stock exchange with more than $1 trillion in market cap, their motto is “Don’t be evil.” This sophisticated theology probably militates against any possibility that they would try to use their power in a self-interested way. Right? Right.
Anyway, to my question. When you look at the news today — doesn’t matter which news source you use, unless it’s television or print, which no one uses anymore — what are the top ten headlines you see? Because I suspect you and I may be looking at the news in a very different way. In fact, I suspect I may see very different stories. Here are my top ten on Google News:
- At least 12 arrests reported on fourth night of demonstrations in Ferguson
- Rick Perry stops paying all of his staff as fundraising dries up
- EPA spill: ‘We looked at the river and we cried’
- A French couple’s love for the American West ends in tragedy
- Who Is Sundar Pichai, Google’s New CEO? (Odd that they think I’d be so interested in this, isn’t it?)
- Another huge crowd for Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders
- Political Violence Rages as Turkish Snap Poll Looks Likely
- Republican Debate: Marco Rubio Wins With 7 For 7
- US calls for peace between Afghanistan, Pakistan to defeat violent extremists
- Ukraine Suffers ‘Worst Shelling in Six Months’ as Violence Escalates
Alas, Google still doesn’t know me well enough to make me completely happy. I reckon I know why they think I’d be interested in the story of a French couple whose love for the American West ends in tragedy, but they’re quite wrong. I may be from the American West, and I may be interested in news about France, but it sure doesn’t add up to “interested in that story.” But apart from that — not bad, Google, not bad. I’d click on the other ones.
In fact, I did.
Now, interestingly, below are the top ten stories you’d get if Google knew nothing at all about you. This is based, I assume, on the rest of the world’s Google searches, although … look, I’m not a conspiracy theorist, you know that, but I have to wonder if the rest of the world is really more interested in first item than in any other topic, don’t you? If so, why?
- Kylie Jenner
- Warren Buffett
- Ferguson unrest
- Jennifer Aniston
So what do you see when you check the news on the Internet? Doesn’t matter if you’re looking at Google, Facebook, or any other Internet news source. I’m just curious to know what you see when it occurs to you to ask, “So, what’s the headline news today?”