Google's Role in Spreading Fake News and Misinformation
31 Pages Posted: 5 Nov 2017
Date Written: October 31, 2017
This paper analyzes Google’s role in proliferating fake news and misinformation in the months leading up to and immediately following the U.S. 2016 national election. It is one section of a longer report, Fake News and Misinformation: The roles of the nation’s digital newsstands, Facebook, Google, Twitter and Reddit, that serves as the first phase of a continuing inquiry over the 2017-18 academic year. This paper reviews the role of Google, and specifically Google Search, in the misinformation landscape. It tracks the problem of misinformation in search engines from the advent of search engine optimization and spam through the present day, focusing on Google’s efforts to curb its role in spreading fake news following the 2016 U.S. elections.
Part 1 describes the “arms race” between search engines and spammers exploiting weaknesses in search algorithms, which contributes to Google’s role in proliferating fake and/or biased news in the 2016 elections. As part of the continuing accounting of the impact of fake news and misinformation on the 2016 elections, this analysis tracks search results for senate and presidential candidates in that election, revealing that up to 30% of these national candidates had their search results affected by potentially fake or biased content.
Part 2 summarizes Google’s recent efforts in 2017 to curb misleading or offensive content through user reporting and human reviewers, along with the opinions of users and experts who are largely supportive of these changes. The section broadly reviews the influence of the Internet on journalism, and then describes Google’s recent efforts to invest in initiatives that bolster investigative journalism and news. It concludes with suggestions for policy and research directions, recommending in particular that Google and other companies increase data transparency, in particular for researchers, to better understand misinformation phenomena online. The study concludes that transparency and civilian oversight are the next critical steps towards a society which benefits fully from the ubiquitous and powerful technologies that surround us.
Keywords: fake news, misinformation, search engine optimization, algorithms, news media
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