Google announces a series of changes to tackle fake news and hate speech

Google is changing the way its search engine works to help stop the spread of fake news and hate speech. The changes involve different measures for ranking sites and people checking results are accurate. In a blog post this afternoon, Google said the changes should thwart attempts to abuse its algorithms that let extremists promote their content.  The move comes shortly after Wikipedia founder announced the creation of a new site to challenge fake news and Facebook unveiled changes to its Related Articles feature, which “should provide people easier access to additional perspectives and information, including articles by third-party fact-checkers,” said Sara Su, its News Feed product manager.

“Search can always be improved,” said Ben Gomes, Google’s vice-president of engineering. “We knew it when I started working on search in 1999, and it’s still true today. Back then, the Internet was expanding at an incredible rate. We had to make sense of this explosion of information, organise it, and present it in a way so that people could find what they were looking for, right on the Google results page. The work then was around PageRank, the core algorithm used to measure the importance of webpages so they could be ranked in results.

“In addition to trying to organise information, our algorithms have always had to grapple with individuals or systems seeking to ‘game’ our systems in order to appear higher in search results—using low-quality ‘content farms, hidden text and other deceptive practices. We’ve tackled these problems, and others over the years, by making regular updates to our algorithms and introducing other features that prevent people from gaming the system.

“Today, in a world where tens of thousands of pages are coming online every minute of every day, there are new ways that people try to game the system. The most high profile of these issues is the phenomenon of ‘fake news,’ where content on the web has contributed to the spread of blatantly misleading, low quality, offensive or downright false information. While this problem is different from issues in the past, our goal remains the same—to provide people with access to relevant information from the most reliable sources available. And while we may not always get it right, we’re making good progress in tackling the problem. But in order to have long-term and impactful changes, more structural changes in search are needed.

“With that longer-term effort in mind, today we’re taking the next step toward continuing to surface more high-quality content from the web. This includes improvements in search ranking, easier ways for people to provide direct feedback, and greater transparency around how search works.” In the blog post, Gomes outlines a series of measures covering search ranking and Google’s autocomplete feature, the latter of which has been generating “shocking or offensive predictions”.

“There are trillions of searches on Google every year,” said Gomes. “In fact, 15 per cent of searches we see every day are new—which means there’s always more work for us to do to present people with the best answers to their queries from a wide variety of legitimate sources. While our search results will never be perfect, we’re as committed as always to preserving your trust and to ensuring our products continue to be useful for everyone.”