Fact-checking and preventing fake news from appearing in search results will remain a big priority for search engines in 2017.
Following the US election and Brexit, increased focus is being placed on how social networks and search engines can avoid showing “fake news” to users. However, this is a battle that search engines cannot — and more fundamentally, should not — fight alone.
With search engines providing a key way people consume information, it is obviously problematic if they can both decide what the truth is and label content as the truth. This power might not be abused now, but there is no guarantee of the safe governance of such organizations in the future.
Here are five key ways Google can deal (or already is dealing) with fake news right now. They are:
Manually reviewing websites
Algorithmically demoting fake news
Removing incentives to create fake news
Signaling when content has been fact-checked
Funding fact-checking organizations
1. Manually reviewing websites
Google does have the power to determine who does and does not appear in their various listings. To appear in Google News, publishers must meet Google’s guidelines , then apply for inclusion and submit to a manual review. This is not the case with the content that appears in traditional organic listings.
Understanding how each part of the search results is populated, and the requirements for inclusion, can be confusing. It’s a common misconception that the content within the “In the news” box is Google News content. It’s not. It may include content from Google News, but aftera change in 2014, this box can pull in content from traditional search listings as well.
“In the news” appears at the top of the page for certain queries and includes stories that have been approved for inclusion in Google News (shown above) as well as other, non-vetted stories from across the web.
That’s why Google was criticized last week for showing a fake news story that reported a popular vote win for Trump. The fake story appeared in the “In the news” box, despite not being Google News (so it was not manually reviewed).
There needs to be better transparency about what content constitutes Google News results and what doesn’t. Labeling something as “news” may give it increased credibility for users, when in reality it hasn’t undergone any manual review.
Google will likely avoid changing the carousel to a pure Google News product, as this may create concerns with news outlets that Google is monetizing the traffic they believe is being “stolen” from them. Unless Google removes any ads appearing against organic listings when a news universal result appears, Google has to make this carousel an aggregation of the net.
It hasn’t been confirmed yet at time of writing, but there is speculation that Google is planning to reduce the ambiguity of the “In the news” listings by replacing it with “Top stories” (as seen in its mobile search results). Like content from the “In the news” box, these listings have been a mashup of Google News and normal search listings, with the common trait being that these pages are AMP-enabled.