Google Rewrites Its Powerful Search Rankings to Bury Fake News
(Bloomberg) -- Google isn’t planning to rid fake news from its search results -- but it’s trying to purge it from the top.
The Alphabet Inc. company is making a rare, sweeping change to the algorithm behind its powerful search engine to demote misleading, false and offensive articles online. Google is also setting new rules encouraging its “raters” -- the 10,000-plus staff that assess search results -- to flag web pages that host hoaxes, conspiracy theories and what the company calls “low-quality” content.
The moves follow months after criticism of Google and Facebook Inc. for hosting misleading information, particular tied to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Google executives claimed the type of web pages categorized in this bucket are relatively small, which is a reason why the search giant hadn’t addressed the issue before.
“It was not a large fraction of queries -- only about a quarter percent of our traffic -- but they were important queries,” said Ben Gomes, vice president of engineering for Google.
While Facebook has faced a backlash for the spread of fake news across its social network, Google has been criticized for results that leap to the top for specific queries. For example, last month for the search query, “is Obama planning a coup,” the top result produced a blatantly wrong article, and did so in a feature snippet -- a text box that Google uses to give quick, authoritative answers. Gomes used this as an example of the type of search result the changes are meant to bury.
“We were highlighting low-quality content in search results,” he said.
Additionally, Google is applying the same new parameters for its “auto-complete” function, which finishes search questions based on popularity. Some of the auto-completes that are deemed offensive (such as “are women evil”) will be eliminated. Google is adding a feature to allow searchers online to flag these instances with a feedback form.
Earlier this month, the company introduced a tool allowing publishers to fact-check articles in its search rankings. The newer changes apply to the secretive, core algorithm behind all Google search rankings. The alterations were devised in an internal group called “Project Owl” started in December, Gomes said.
For years, the company gave more care to making sure there wasn’t misleading information in response to two types of queries: those for personal health and finance. Now it’s adding news as a third category.
“Until recently, we thought we didn’t need to do that for news because news typically comes from high authority pages,” Gomes said.