Search Engine or Search Control?

"Google Main Search" by MoneyBlogNewz is licensed under CC BY 2.0


In the face of massive information on the Internet, people cannot timely and accurately find the content they need, search engine arises at the historic moment. From the channel nature of information transmission and distribution, search engines have obvious media attributes. In the process of information retrieval and distribution, search engines with media attributes filter, filter and process information, which is an invisible check behavior. This paper analyzes this kind of invisible gatekeeping behavior and reveals its characteristics and existing problems through the history and development of Internet search engine, how it affects and changes people’s life and its benefits or not from the perspective of current media society.

The birth of search engine

Archie was invented at McGill University in Montreal in 1990, Archie was the first program to automatically index files from anonymous sites on the Internet, but it is not a real search engine yet. Archie helps users find articles and directories on any anonymous server on the Internet (Tom& Dean & Satheesh, 2011). In 1994, the first searchable and browsable catalog EINet Galaxy went live, in the same year, Chinese American Jerry Yang and others started the Yahoo directory to support simple database searches as the number of visits and indexed links grew. During that year, the University of Washington began work on the WebCrawler project. WebCrawler was the first search engine on the Internet that allowed you to search all the words in a file. Before WebCrawler, users could only search through URLs and abstracts (usually from the first 100 words of text extracted automatically by a human comment or program) (Andrew, 2001, p.57). Infoseek is another important search engine that follows the Yahoo concept without any unique innovations. In 1995, its strategic partnership with Netscape turned it into a search engine. In 1995, a new type of search engine appeared – multiple search engine (Tom& Dean & Satheesh, 2011). Users only need to submit a search request once, which is processed by multiple indexed engines and submitted to multiple pre-selected independent search engines. All the results returned from each independent indexed engine are collected and returned to the user after processing.

Figure1: SEO for nonprofits: a beginners guide to digital marketing success Retrieved from


How does Search Engine work?

Different from the traditional media, search engines do not produce content, but a kind of “second check” similar to compilation check. By searching content and presenting it in a certain order (Liddy, 2001), they construct the information environment of Internet users and guide people to make information choices. Search engine check behavior is triggered by the active search behavior of Internet users. When a user logs in to a search engine, the search results are automatically obtained by inputting keywords in the algorithm, which takes a very short time, and the Internet users cannot clearly detect the check behavior of the search engine (Qin, 2018). Search engine as the gatekeeper in the network environment is invisible, there are the following characteristics.

Firstly, the unconscious, every search is actively conducted by the user through the input of keywords, and the search results are also actively selected and selected by the user. In this process, the user will have a sense that the decision is up to me. And this awareness is based on an important premise: search engines understand my needs and can provide me with the most relevant information. This trust and reliance on technology leads to users’ dependence on search engines. What the user does not understand is that the sorting results are not only algorithm-based, but also involve a lot of human intervention, and the algorithm has been carefully designed by engineers (Huvila,2015, p.567). In this process, the initiative of the user’s search behavior, the trust and dependence of the search engine make the search engine’s check behavior become invisible.

Moreover, manipulation- the search technology developed on the basis of the Internet makes the search service provider the most direct gatekeeper of massive information. They have tremendous technological control over the spread of information, and they are often referred to as the “gatekeepers.” In the real sense, it is the vast amount of web information it collects that no other web application can do (Isto,2013), and no other medium can produce content on this scale. Macroscopically speaking, such a huge amount of Internet information, only through the search engine this application can be obtained by the user, the “unique” of how search engine checked can be seen.

Who owns and control?

Search engine companies are independent private enterprises, and profit is their primary purpose (Eliaz & Spiegler, 2011). However, the search service they provide is a kind of public service. There is an inevitable contradiction between the public service and the commercial essence. Commercial websites, as advertisers, and netizens, as general users, have different priorities in the search process. The average individual user values the comprehensiveness, accuracy and relevance of the search results, while the ranking position of the search results is more important for commercial websites.

Search Engine benefits Who?

The reality is that, in order to make profits, search engines continue to sacrifice the interests of ordinary users, through human intervention to meet the needs of commercial sites as advertisers, to obtain greater profits. For example, search engine bidding ranking. Bidding ranking is a kind of network marketing service that search engine service providers provide to customers, with keyword payment as the standard (Eliza, & Spiegler, 2011), to buy the same keywords of the customer’s website links, in the search results to give a sort of priority. At one end of the spectrum are keyword prices that determine ranking in search results, at the other end are fees that customers pay Baidu for each click. Baidu began to use the bidding ranking system in 2001, this system at an annual growth rate of more than 40% for Baidu to continue to bring profit, for Baidu to bring more than 80% of the economic income, Baidu to the top of the business (Min,2014, p.1090). Search engines can quietly check through subtle human intervention and algorithm design, or even perform bidding ranking at the expense of users, allowing users to search for many advertising information that may not be needed, or even false advertising. However, this kind of behavior will not be noticed by too many people, and it will not arouse anti-feelings and protests from users (Duong, 2017). Consumers think the top of the list should be more persuasive. Due to the row in front of the higher click-through rates and the link number, makes the line by the former is more and more by the former, laggard behind more and more, consumers, and thought is the result of natural search, did not know that this is bidding on the blame, and search engine search query shows that did not differentiate between competitive search and natural search, resulting in such phenomenon.

Figure 3, Screenshoot of Baidu search page of “Mobile phone” by Jiahui Cheng



The fragmented and massive distribution of information on the Internet increasingly highlights the importance of information organization, classification and filtering, which leads to the search engine occupying the pivotal position of information communication in modern society, because it controls the public’s access to information, an important source of information, search engines are remarkably public. The company influences the structure and arrangement of information in accordance with its own business interests, highlighting and masking the appearance of information, and stating the necessity for the law to regulate the services of index engines in accordance with the public interest.



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Jiahui Cheng
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USYD students / dealing with social media life