Google implemented a new tool on Friday to combat the increasingly troubling issue of fabricated reporting, or ‘fake news,” in the form of a ‘Fact Check’ tag. While Google News has used ‘Fact Check’ in the past, the new announcement means that it will now expand to include results in Google Search. Fact-checking organisations like Snopes and PolitiFact, among others, can now add snippets to the website’s metadata, letting the user know whether the contents of that page have been fact-checked.
A tag is essentially a descriptor that shows up underneath a website in search engines. It is the metadata-data that informs about the data on the webpage-associated with the website or article in question, and it better allows users to find the information they are looking for. Examples of commonly used tags to categorize web content include In-Depth, Opinion, Wikipedia.
What is Fake News?
While dishonest (or poorly researched) media stories have long been exemplified by the likes of celebrity gossip tabloids and click-bait articles, the specific term ‘fake news’ has picked up steam in the mainstream media due to speculation about its possible involvement in affecting the real-world socio-political climate (the outcomes of the 2017 U.S. Presidential Election and Brexit, for instance).
Fact-checking is generally a common step toward publishing articles (especially in print media), but now since many news sites depend so greatly on ad revenue, we see more and more news websites hastily posting misinformation because they want to be the ones ‘breaking’ the story, never mind the facts. They will sometimes update the story as it unfolds, but often leave the attention grabbing headline up, regardless of whether that lines up with the story or not. Fake news is a lucrative business, to the extent that “one successful owner and writer of over 15 fake news sites, albeit anonymous, claims to earn an average of $10,000-$30,000 per month strictly off fake news stories. Wherever there is quick money to be made, you can be sure people will be flocking towards it.”
This is especially dangerous as many media consumers presumably assume their news is accurate, and will not go the extra step of verifying the claims made. They might align their values, their opinions, and even their vote with an inaccurate or misrepresented view.
What’s Being Done About it
Google isn’t the only company making efforts to combat fake news. Last week Facebook announced tips to users in 14 countries to identify fake news, after “Germany’s coalition government threatened to fine Facebook up to $500,000 for allowing the publishing of each fake news on the media platform,” and has also given special abilities to five third-party fact checking organisations to publicly flag inaccurate posts as fake.
Implementing these steps successfully can greatly benefit customers. It will help them access more honest information while reducing appeals to their confirmation biases (their predisposition towards seeking out and believing news that is more aligned with their existing views). It will also benefit companies because there will be a lower likelihood of false news spreading like wildfire on the internet attracting public outrage, and would also give companies another way to protect themselves and clear their name if the source of the news has been publicly disputed.
Google’s step toward improving the accuracy of its search results starts an important conversation about how we consume media online, the transient nature of online news, and journalistic integrity, and we hope that the coming months will see more large organisations follow suit, and implement their own safeguards against the proliferation of fake news, or as some might prefer to call it, alternative facts.
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