Fighting Fake News
Is this news story true or is it merely the product of someone’s imagination? While sometimes it’s easy to tell (does anyone really believe a 600-pound woman gave birth to a 50-pound baby?), numerous people have been fooled by fake news, including respected journalists. Many of these stories seem to circulate via social media today, and a May 2016 Pew Research Center report indicated that now 62 percent of Americans get their news from social media.
Google says their algorithms have always had to cope with those who come up with schemes to rank higher in search results. At one time it was low-quality content farms. Now, as part of an effort to mitigate the trending “fake news” phenomena, Google recently announced the latest improvements for Search on its blog.
“It’s become very apparent that a small set of queries in our daily traffic (around 0.25 percent), have been returning offensive or clearly misleading content, which is not what people are looking for,” says Ben Gomes, Google’s VP, Engineering.
Google announced algorithmic updates to bring more authoritative content higher in the search rankings.
New search quality rater guidelines: Evaluators, who are real people, assess the quality of Google’s search results and provide feedback on areas that need improvement. Google updated their Search Quality Rater Guidelines to provide more detailed examples of low-quality webpages for raters to appropriately flag.
Ranking changes: Google adjusted signals that determine which results are displayed for a given query to help surface more authoritative pages and make low-quality content (such as the Holocaust denial results) less likely to appear.
Autocomplete: Google also updated the auto complete tool that automatically fills in search requests, adding a feedback option to flag objectionable wording suggestions.
If you’re interested, Google’s How Search Works gives a more in-depth look.
Facebook announced that the social media giant is also working to fight the spread of false news in three key areas: “disrupting economic incentives because most false news is financially motivated; building new products to curb the spread of false news; and helping people make more informed decisions when they encounter false news.”
Fake news is not, alas, a new phenomenon. The Columbia Journalism Review recounts the saga of The Washington Post reporter who, back in 1980, “fabricated” an account of an 8-year-old heroin addict whose story, “Jimmy’s World,” even won a Pulitzer Prize before it was determined that the story was fake. The Washington Post returned the Pulitzer.
Reader beware, unfortunately, still applies.