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All Internet is Local: Information Pools and Search Engine Representation of International Affairs

Tuesday, October 4, 2022 | 1:00 PM - 2:00 PM (Pacific)

William J. Perry Conference Room

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About the Event: How do perceptions of international affairs vary between countries? To what extent do technology companies mediate these perceptions? International relations scholarship has largely neglected the role of internet search engines, yet they are a ubiquitous method by which people seek information about the world. This study conducts a large-scale audit of Google Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) for various topics related to international affairs. Our preliminary results indicate three patterns. First, variation in localized results strongly correlates with user language, suggesting that language is a primary factor mediating people’s exposure to information about international affairs. Second, we find significant differences in the reach of ideological content, including state propaganda as well as material from transnational advocacy networks. Finally, we trace how SERPs change in response to salient events. Analyzing results related to the 2022 Ukraine crisis generated both before and after the Russian invasion, we find that geographic clustering in the content of SERPs becomes more substantial following the invasion, suggesting an increase in localization. Substantively, this analysis contributes to several literatures, including the role of technology in international politics, surveillance capitalism, and AI governance. Methodologically, this paper is the first in the field (to our knowledge) to use SBERT, a state-of-the-art natural language processing model for sentence embeddings.

About the Speaker: Rochelle Terman is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago. She received her Ph.D. in Political Science with a designated emphasis in Gender & Women’s Studies from the University of California, Berkeley. Before coming to Chicago, she was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University. Her research interests focus on international norms, human rights, and computational social science.

 All CISAC events are scheduled using the Pacific Time Zone.