The Internet has multiplied the possibilities for publishing and accessing information. Established gatekeepers (e.g. publishing houses, broadcasters) are challenged by this development since producers and consumers can circumvent these institutions for engagement with information. At the same time, the exponentially growing amount of data makes information selection more necessary. Search engines (e.g. Google, Bing) have become major players in this pursuit: They search millions of websites within seconds and present them in a hierarchical order. Since search engines belong to the most popular web services and the market situation is extremely concentrated (dominated by Google with a monopoly-like market share in countries like Germany), they are seen to practice significant information politics: What can be found online largely depends on its algorithmically determined ranking within search engines.
The exact functionality of these algorithms is a well-kept company secret and also many questions regarding their societal impact remain open. This PhD project focuses particularly on the implications of search engine information politics on the scientific community. Specifically, how is controversial scientific knowledge constructed and distributed through this technology: How is the borderline between science and pseudoscience renegotiated in this context? Do marginalized positions benefit from the algorithmic orders of search engines? How do lay people evaluate the fragmented and recontextualized pieces of information in search engine results? The PhD project tackles these questions with user studies, questionnaires and novel digital methods.