Google drawn into fake news controversy
Truth or dare?
As we enter what some pundits are calling a ‘post-truth’ era, especially when it comes to politics, and with more and more of us using the internet to access stories from around the world, the emergence of fake online news is becoming of increasing concern to those in search of balanced views from legitimate sources.
Google has recently been pulled into the controversy following November’s US presidential election, amid allegations that it may have played a role in tipping the vote.
An algorithm fail
The company was forced to admit that Google algorithms had returned a prominent placement in its search engine results page (SERP) to a rightwing blog that falsely claimed that Donald Trump had won more votes than Hillary Clinton.
Google said that it aimed to return ‘the most relevant and useful results’, adding that it was ’continually working to improve’ its algorithms.
It’s not just Google taking the heat, though. Social media platform Facebook was also called out for preventing the spread of fake news ahead of the election. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg argued that only a small amount of the election information shared over Facebook was fake, but he did concede that distinguishing the truth was ‘complicated’.
A question of rankings
Google doesn’t override its algorithms manually, so as to avoid accusations of bias. It does, however, use a complex system of search and social media information which, in this case, appears to have rocketed the fake 70News post – which was trending heavily on social networks – to the top slot.
In response, Google said that it was updating its rules so that in future it would not serve ads on ‘pages that misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about the publisher, the publisher’s content, or the primary purpose of the web property’.
Fake news is big business
Hundreds of fake news websites appeared during the run-up to the US election in order to capitalise on ad revenues. Oddly enough, the centre of the fake news clickbait industry is a small town in Macedonia. Here, young Macedonians apparently earn thousands of dollars creating pro-Trump articles that reach millions of US citizens.
For the entrepreneurs of Veles, it’s not about politics, though, it’s about the bottom line. The Facebook business model means that publishers get a percentage of pay-per-click advertising revenue, and, if the proliferation of ‘news’ sites in Macedonia is anything to go by, Americans can’t get enough Trump-Clinton conspiracy stories, even if they are faked.
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