Google Spotlights Fact-Checkers to Manage Misinformation

April 11, 2017 - 3 minutes read

Last week, Facebook announced its News Integrity Initiative, another gesture toward fixing the internet’s misinformation epidemic. While the social media giant has received most of the flak for the explosion of fake news, NYC app developers are well aware that it’s not the only platform guilty of disseminating false information. As the search engine, Google is where most of us turn for answers about our world. But as anyone who has used the platform extensively will tell you, a lot of those answers are misleading or flat-out wrong.

This past Friday, Google took baby steps toward dealing with this problem worldwide by highlighting information from fact-checking organizations in search and news results. Fact-checking outfits will not receive more prominent search rankings, but the feature does indicate on the results page if an article or page has been deemed true or false by nonpartisan and “authoritative” fact-checking organizations. Google first started this experiment with fact-checking with news results back in October, just weeks before an election that many believe was decided in part by widespread fake news. It’s no wonder many app developers are skeptical as to whether or not this feature will successfully combat the kinds of crazy claims that paved the way for Trump and the whole post-truth era we’re living through.

Google’s fact-check solution does little to address major flaws in the search engine. Last year’s controversy over the appearance of Holocaust denial sites in response to Holocaust-related search queries underlined Google’s trouble with specious, false, and sometimes hateful top search results. Sites like this may now be labeled “false,” but the new fact-check system does not immediately impact their rankings. It also does nothing to deal with the erroneous “one true answers” that have become something of a pet peeve for mobile app developers (did you know that Obama used to be America’s king?).

The fake news crisis cannot be solved through adjusted algorithms and additional fact-checking alone — we must also rectify underlying issues with media literacy and the population’s civic engagement. That’s a tall order for platforms like Facebook and Google. In the meantime, app developers will have to settle for a little oversight from the likes of Snopes and PolitiFact in their search results.

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