Google launches major offensive against fake news

Posted April 26, 2017

The search engine's parent company, Alphabet Inc., announced its plans to change a fundamental component of its algorithm that previously allowed false information to be sent straight to the top of its results pages.

Google is also altering its search parameters to give priority to "more authoritative" sources over lower-quality or unfounded web pages - an effort Google says will prevent scenarios like late previous year, when an article denying the Holocaust preceded all other results for "did the Holocaust happen".

Those results can trigger a public-relations backlash, as it did in December when a white supremacist site was featured prominently in search results about the Holocaust.

Holocaust denial has been a particularly hard result for Google to deal with.

Google announced Tuesday that it's changing how its search engine works to "surface more high quality content from the web".

Google also says it is improving the guidelines its employees use to evaluate content that appears in search results.

"It's not a problem that is going to go all the way to zero, but we now think we can stay a step ahead of things", said Ben Gomes, Google's vice president of engineering for search. The feedback menus will allow users to notify Google if they feel anything that shows up in the search bar, via AutoComplete, is inappropriate. One will see this in Google's autocomplete which may still produce rather odd and hateful results, but now users can flag them and Google can more easily correct them.

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As Google and Facebook become the primary sources of news and information online for many, the companies are realizing they have a responsibility to make sure users are seeing facts, not hoaxes. Users will also be able to drop personalise comments to report the content, this feedback from users will be used by Google to improve search algorithms.

To address the problem, Google began revising the closely guarded algorithms that generate its search with the help of 10,000 people who rate the quality and reliability of the recommendations during tests.

The term fake news has been thrown around a lot over the past few months. It's also lost lawsuits in Japan and Germany over the search suggestions.

Danny Sullivan, the editor of industry news site Search Engine Land, said that the changes were nearly certainly driven by Google's desire to end the rash of bad press it has received over its role in spreading such misleading and false information.

Google has also introduced a new feedback mechanism for users to report inaccurate autocomplete suggestions or featured snippets - the boxes of text that appear at the top of certain queries.

Gomes added an interesting fact at the end.