How do we find truth online?

In a recent article at Wired, Megan Gray writes:

Google likely alters queries billions of times a day in trillions of different variations. Here’s how it works. Say you search for “children’s clothing.” Google converts it, without your knowledge, to a search for “NIKOLAI-brand kidswear,” making a behind-the-scenes substitution of your actual query with a different query that just happens to generate more money for the company, and will generate results you weren’t searching for at all. It’s not possible for you to opt out of the substitution. If you don’t get the results you want, and you try to refine your query, you are wasting your time. This is a twisted shopping mall you can’t escape.

Why would Google want to do this? First, the generated results to the latter query are more likely to be shopping-oriented, triggering your subsequent behavior much like the candy display at a grocery store’s checkout. Second, that latter query will automatically generate the keyword ads placed on the search engine results page by stores like TJ Maxx, which pay Google every time you click on them. In short, it’s a guaranteed way to line Google’s pockets.

It’s also a guaranteed way to harm everyone except Google. This system reduces search engine quality for users and drives up advertiser expenses. Google can get away with it because these manipulations are imperceptible to the user and advertiser, and the company has effectively captured more than 90 percent market share.

When our searches are silently modified to produce more revenue for search engines, there is a form of deception designed to benefit Google rather than the person seeking information.

In a context of deception, how do we find truth? It’s like a hall of mirrors - you’re seeing reflections, but none of them are accurate.

Here are a few ideas:

  1. Be aware of the deception
  2. Use companies that don’t practice this behavior. DuckDuckGo is more likely to be trustworthy.
  3. Diversify where we get our information. For instance, use libraries to consult books and academic journals. Or start a search for information on an already trusted website.

What do you think of Google’s practice?

How will you seek truth online - and off?


This is so frustrating to read, and sadly unsurprising at the same time. I’m disheartened though for all the people who won’t realise this and will kept from Truth in some respects.

Such a good idea! From experience, many journals are subscription based. I’m wondering if there’s anything available for free for those who wouldn’t be ready to subscribe? I think that @jimmy often seems to share interesting theological articles and papers that don’t require subscriptions. Are there good places to look for these?

As a side note, I’ve started taking my kids to the library even though we have a million books at home. The joy of browsing new books is always a thrill. I think it’s the same for adults too, and is definitely worth considering as a practice to incorporate into our own Bible studies.

I use Brave as a search engine which I think is also more honest (but don’t quote me on that - do your own research!).


I was listening to an Unbelievable podcast episode this week with the provacative title, ‘Could AI Replace Humanity?’ with Nigel Crook, Professor of AI and Robotics (and a Christian), and Anil Seth, author of ‘Being You: A New Science of Consciousness’.

The topic on Artificial Intelligence certainly adds a layer to this question of finding truth online. I found their discussion of the new AI ‘ChatGPT’ pertinent to this issue of truth. A big concern that they raised is that as ChatGPT was released without much ethical consideration, humans have a tendency to anthropomorphise things and there is the risk that people connecting with it online will believe that they’re emotionally connecting with ChatGPT, and that they could believe that it has empathy towards them when in reality it doesn’t. The discussion on this starts at about 10 minutes in. In fact, they point out that AI really is a misnoma, as it’s not at all empathetic and intelligent. It should be called ‘Applied Statistics’ as it’s simply recognising patterns and creating patterns now under a simplified biological inspiration. The presenter introduces this episode using text written by ChatGPT which highlights this very point.

This is a huge risk of deceit for vulnerable individuals seeking emotional connection with someone. In fact they reference a very sad instance recently of someone who did emotionally connect with ChatGPT with devastating consequences for that individual. I wonder if the solution to this is part of a same broader solution to finding truth online anywhere, and that is to build and strengthen meaningful human relationships. Within a genuine human connection, there is the emotional connection, the empathy, the search for knowledge, accountability to one another when weighing up what might be truth. Yet the risk with all online activity is that it is so convenient that we become lazy with meaningful human relationships. As you said in your post, @Carson, being aware of the deceit is the first step and the answer to seeking truth online and off is to live as God designed us, in physical community with others.

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