Google to extend fact checking capabilities
2017 appears to be the year of fake news, with the phenomenon capturing numerous news headlines during the first few months of the new year. Google, the search engine giant, have found themselves caught up in the midst of this particular story.
With some larger brands pulling advertising and policy-makers taking aim at those publishing content that is seen to be false, or particularly unpleasant, many of the world’s leading search engines, social media companies and publishers have been forced in to action.
So Google announced that their new fact checking service became active on Friday, If you search for something that is seen as controversial, Google are now including links to fact checks within their results pages. To test out this functionality, we carried out a range of searches on Google.co.uk, eventually stumbling upon “Clinton sold Uranium to Russia.” A screenshot of the top result is shown below:
What do we see here? Well, the first point to note is that there is a line of text suggesting that this claim originally comes from the Internet. There is then a second line of information, offering a view from Snopes.com that the information is false.
This looks, on the face of it, to be a good addition. But we can see a few issues here:
Firstly, we’d never heard of Snopes.com. That might be us missing out on something that is well-known by others, but we rather suspect that most UK Internet users will be in the same boat. If a fact check is to be provided, then it’s important that it should come from a reputable, widely known source. If there was a line of text there stating that the BBC, the Guardian and the Times (to take a selection) had all identified this story to be false, then we believe that this would carry far greater weight.
Then there’s the question of how frequently these fact checks appears within Google’s listings. It’s early days, we guess, but we had to run through a large number of fake news stories before reaching this one about the sale of uranium. Fact checks weren’t appearing against those other items.
What would happen too, in the case where multiple fact checking organisations actually reached differing conclusions? It’s likely that there would simply be confusion for the end user.
Google finds itself caught in something of a news bubble at the moment and executives are undoubtedly keen to escape from the headlines. The service that’s being offered here represents a tentative first step, but we think that there is some way to go along the path.
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