DuckDuckGo is promoting the filter bubble to users

When the DuckDuckGo search engine first started, one of its main marketing points was that their search results would not put you into a filter bubble. That is, they would not curate your search results based on what they think you want to see, like other search engines do.

They made statements such as:

At DuckDuckGo, we don’t put you in the “Filter Bubble.”

They ran a study on filter bubbles to criticize their main competitor, Google.

Now, DuckDuckGo is asking it's users to join in on the filter bubble.

Sometime around the past month, DuckDuckGo has begun promoting Reddit during user searches. They offer a button to filter their search results to only include pages from Reddit. A pane at the top of the search results contains the message "Reddit appears in some of the top results for this search. Filter to only see results from" along with a button to Filter Results.


Let's not be mistaken. Filtering results to only show opinions of one particular community is a filter bubble. While being opt in is better than being forced, this is dangerous because healthy research/information gathering requires using diverse sources. This feature trains users to do the opposite, and gets them acclimated to the idea of a filter bubble.

I wanted to find what their side of this decision was, but I was unable to find any announcement on this feature from the teams at DuckDuckGo. Ironically, all I could find from them were more posts talking about how they're fighting against the filter bubble.


Understandably searching "duckduckgo blog reddit" did give a lot of Reddit results. First finding where the blog is hosted and filtering to " reddit" or with the message text did not yield anything about the new feature either.

So far, every result I've seen has promoted Reddit specifically. This is also problematic. DuckDuckGo is making a stance with this feature by saying Reddit is where people should be going to get their information; a decision a search engine should not be making.

Reddit's platform and design encourages a very particular insular style of conversation which does not lead to healthy debate. Again, leading away from finding a healthy diverse set of opinions. (I plan to write further about the issues with Reddit's design another time.) Do the people at DuckDuckGo really believe Reddit mods who control what is or is not allowed on the site are the best people to be curating what people see in their search results? Do they really want to encourage a Reddit monopoly?

I first noticed this feature while searching for an indie game. DuckDuckGo popped up this suggestion to only search on Reddit. I knew for a fact the game was published on an indie games forum instead, which even was the top result. Yet DuckDuckGo's algorithm felt the need to promote Reddit over it, even thought only 2 out of the top 10 results were for Reddit. DuckDuckGo is promoting silencing a smaller website in favor of a bigger one.

Further, those Reddit results were for a completely unrelated joke game made at the expense of the original project. If someone was searching for this game and found those posts instead, it would completely misrepresent it. Reddit gave the wrong result, and DuckDuckGo was pushing me towards them.

I tried the search again today to get a screenshot, but it decided not to show it this time. Oh well.

It is unclear what type of searches trigger this promotion of Reddit. Including words such as "meme" or "memes" seems to increase it. Sometimes I make the same search twice, and it will appear on one search, but not the other. I thought it might be some sort of threshold where Reddit appears in the top results, but 2/10 results is way to low to be a reasonable level.


This is not the first time DuckDuckGo has shown favoritism towards a specific company. Last year, they landed in hot water after it was discovered that they were specifically not blocking Microsoft trackers. A behind-the-scenes agreement that put user's privacy at risk, running contrary to DuckDuckGo's promoted ideals.

Since this feature only supports Reddit, I'm left to guess that they similarly have a secret deal with them. There's no way to know for certain what's going on behind closed doors. DuckDuckGo's history has shown they will not always be forthcoming about such decisions they're making, so we must scrutinize every action carefully.

In their defense, this feature is likely encouraged by the recent trend of people adding "reddit" to their searches to get "better" results. It could be defended as "giving the people what they want".

People point to the growing trend of Google searches including Reddit as evidence that it's being used for this purpose. It's true it's search ranks are growing faster than other social media platforms, but this is not representative of it's number of users or the quality of its content.

The top 10 searches including "reddit" are as followed:

1. nba reddit

2. what is reddit

3. nfl reddit

4. reddit news

5. reddit all

6. reddit games

7. reddit league

8. reddit app

9. old reddit

10. reddit lol

Most of these results are not people looking to get better search results. They're using Google as a shortcut to navigate to their favorite subreddit. (r/nba, r/nfl, r/news, r/all, r/games, r/leagueoflegends, r/leagueoflegends again.) Users of the second highest result sure aren't adding Reddit to get better results if they don't even know what it is.

The idea that Reddit searches are growing because it leads to better search results is busted. Most of the results are from people just taking a shortcut to subreddits. The number of users who use "reddit" as a search term to curate results are in the minority. In the future, I want you to pay attention to how many searches you make that are not related to Reddit.

While we're at it, more searches does not mean a larger user base. Reddit isn't even in the top 10 social media sites. Platforms larger than it get less search results. Pintrest is larger than Reddit, yet despite frequently showing up in search results, has gotten the opposite reputation of people wanting to filter it out. People would be upset if DuckDuckGo started promoting Pintrest posts exclusively to them.

We don't see such search trends with other social media platforms because there, users would have to log in to their front page first, then navigate to their preferred section. Alternatively, they navigate through it with apps. Neither would be getting added to Google search results.

By comparison, searches for Reddit is peanuts compared to Amazon. That doesn't mean we should start having people add "amazon" to all of their search results. And we absolutely should NOT be filtering all shopping searches towards Amazon.,reddit

Training users to use a technique that's only used by a minority of users to get results from one silo of the internet is a shallow, short-sighted solution. DuckDuckGo should not be designed around fads. They should be shaping a better search environment. A better solution to combat search engine optimization spam is to instead improve the search algorithm to not be so easily abused.

My suggestion to the DuckDuckGo devs is to change what the message is. Change it from promoting Reddit specifically to a message that will help the user learn about the "site:" filter option. Then, only show it if a user is including a top website name. (ie, a user has to actually include the word "reddit" in their search for it to trigger.)

The message could be "Tip: You can limit searches to a specific website with".

This way you're helping users learn how to use the search engine to curate what they want for themselves, rather than pushing someone else's ideas onto them.