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Data Voids: the Deceptive Paths to Hate

Posted at 9:57 PM, Feb 26, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-27 11:56:27-05

More than 42 billion people visit Google every month. Other sites like YouTube, Facebook, and Yahoo also get billions of visits a month and each of them has a major role in answering search queries.

You are reading this online, so you are one of the 89 percent of Americans who are on the internet on a regular basis. (Unless you are elsewhere, in which case, thanks for finding my story!)

As a fellow user of the internet, you know that not all searches yield the same quality of results.

  • Google “Ariana Grande” and you will get millions of sites offering information, and the top results will likely be official news outlets with some accountable, credible reporting.
  • Google my dog Gus, and you won’t find anything, though if you search “Gus the Springer Spaniel,” you will LOVE the results unless you have no heart whatsoever. None of them are my Gus, but that’s my point.

Ariana Grande and Gus are not searches that are likely to inspire political extremism or violence, but some search results have led to that result.

The report above outlines how hate groups use what’s called a “Data Void” to deliver messages to people who may be susceptible to manipulation.

If you’d like to read more about data voids, click here.

Dr. McGregor has studied the phenomenon, though her main line of research is about social media, the mass media, and politics. I interviewed her about that research for my podcast. You can find it on Apple, Art19, Google, Spotify and Stitcher.