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Censorship

Google Is Destroying Your Access to News: Book Censorship News, April 19, 2024

Kelly Jensen

Editor

Kelly is a former librarian and a long-time blogger at STACKED. She's the editor/author of (DON'T) CALL ME CRAZY: 33 VOICES START THE CONVERSATION ABOUT MENTAL HEALTH and the editor/author of HERE WE ARE: FEMINISM FOR THE REAL WORLD. Her next book, BODY TALK, will publish in Fall 2020. Follow her on Instagram @heykellyjensen.

Earlier this year, several users began to note that the “News” tab on Google was disappearing. It wasn’t one time here or there. It was noticeable enough that several outlets reported on the issue. Indeed, Google’s experiment in disappearing the “news” feature wasn’t a bug. It was a goal.

Filtering to news results is still available on Google for me, but this week, I noticed something I never had appear before. In researching “young adult novel” news for the “What’s Up in YA?” newsletter, refining my search to a specific date range — April 11 through April 15, 2024 — and to the news tab, this is what popped up:

Search results for "young adult novel" with refinements on date and to news.

Since when, Google, does refining a search mean that I would like loads of results that do not include the news I’m looking for? Apparently, to Google, this is the future of search.

To say the results were garbage would be a deep understatement. I could not find any news because my results looked like this:

young adult novel google news search results.

There are pages of results from foreign, questionable websites that are nothing but “deals” on book titles. Repeating the search a day later, the results looked similar, with pages of links to individual Barnes & Noble stores and their upcoming events. None of this is news, and indeed, none of this even shows up when you do a general Google search — the news tab specifically has become completely garbagified (or, as Cory Doctorow would note, enshittified).

This is deeply concerning.

First, this directly impacts the ability of anyone to find real, verified news on topics of importance. For the book ban news roundup, I spent significantly more time this week gathering news about book bans because, well, now I not only have to do two times the number of searches — one on Google News and one on Google in general (which brings back even worse results than news does) — but I also have to verify that the thing I’m looking at is actually a news outlet. You might think an outlet like Alabama 1819 looks like a news source, for example, but then you realize they have been actively encouraging book banning and have a blatant agenda and slant to their “news.”

Not only will your news roundups here be shorter and less comprehensive — hooray because this is our shared democracy being completely destroyed, and the news covering this censorship is already terrible enough on its own — but you should be worried about this happening in the wake of ongoing political unrest around the world. You should be worried about this happening in the midst of an election year. You should be worried about this in the midst of an information crisis.

And you should be deeply concerned about this happening as we see an unfettered rise in fascism.

Because we’ve put all of our water into the bucket of Google, what do we do now when it comes to finding actual news? We can’t rely on social media because we know they are controlled by those with particular political affiliations and who show us what they think we want to see via algorithms.

There are no other news search resources. You can keyword with the best of them, but without a place to refine, you’re shit out of luck.

Thanks, Google, for taking your place right alongside the news media itself in contributing to the rise in book bans, mis-/dis-/mal- information, and increasing fascism.

Sorry to everyone out there who now needs to rewrite all of your information literacy guides with a big ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ on where to find reliable news before you even get the opportunity to assess its validity and accuracy. Of course this happens at a time when librarians and educators are not only not being maligned but are not being recruited and supported in their institutions.

This is where we are now, but sadly, it was bound to happen.

Some of us naively thought it might be after the election. But alas, it’s here now, and your sources of reliable information finding have withered even further.

Book Censorship News: April 19, 2024

Note: I’ll be out of the office on Thursday this week, meaning that the news below covers only that published before mid-day Wednesday. I’ll include news from Thursday of this week in next week’s roundup.