Three high-profile Internet brands this week announced
initiatives to fight "fake news" online.
Google revealed that it had twisted its search processes
to help bring high-quality content to the top of search result pages.
Facebook also said, it had begun testing its Related
Articles feature, which displays readers articles related to the topic of an
article they've just read on Facebook's recommendations. The new related
article feature displays the links to recommended reading in users' news feeds,
along with the topic article link.
Meanwhile, Wikipedia also took a shot at fake news.
Founder Jimmy Wales also announced a new online publication, Wikitribune, which focuses to fight
fake news by pairing professional journalists with legions of volunteer
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Among the changes Google has implemented to give
high-quality content its due is a revamp of the guidelines used by its quality
raters to evaluate the productiveness of the company's algorithms to identify controversial
content, including misguiding information, unexpected offensive results, hoaxes
and unsupported conspiracy theories.
Ben Gomes, vice president of engineering at Google stated
"These guidelines will begin to help our algorithms in demoting such
low-quality content and help us to make additional improvements over time.”
The company has twisted the signals it uses to rank
pages, so more reliable content is displayed and lower-quality content is
demoted in search results.
Google also has made it easy to go for searchers to flag
inaccurate or offensive content that displays in the Autocomplete and Featured
Snippets features on a Web page.
Further, it has added more transparency about its
practices at its Help Center and How Search Works site.
Google's latest moves are smart for its business,
regardless of whether they have an impact on fake news, suggested John Carroll,
a mass communications professor at Boston University.
"When people start to doubt the reliability of
Google's search results that can undermine what people have relied on Google
for since its inception," he told TechNewsWorld.
"Google says that only 0.25 % of its search results
link to derogatory or erroneous content, there has been enough press around it
to make something Google can't afford not to address," Carroll said.
Addressing the problem of fake news is a good idea for
Google, at least conceptually, noted Tom Rosenstiel, executive director of the
American Press Institute.
He told to TechNewsWorld "Google has a power and impact
here, because most people don't move beyond the first page of indexing’s,",
"so if you can rank higher things that have more reliability and are more
likely to be true and accurate, that's mightier."
for People, by People
Of the three initiatives to foil fake news, Wikitribune
is probably the most ambitious. Founder Wales contends the online publication
will be the first collaboration between professional and citizen journalists working
side-by-side as equals, writing stories as they happen, editing them live, and
having them fact-checked by a supporting community.
Mark Marino, director of the Humanities and Critical Code
Studies Lab at the University of Southern California told to TechNewsWorld "I
have great hope for the Wikitribune idea, Wikipedia has developed a robust
system for establishing the veracity of content,"
Moreover, unlike Google and Facebook, "the processes
are apparent to the people who read Wikipedia. You can see the conversations
behind the content, “That puts it at a very different level than either
Facebook or Google, whose algorithms are invisible to us at all times." Marino
"As well intentioned as journalists and entrepreneurs
have been in pursuing that kind of collaborative journalism, it hasn't been
successful in many of the cases where it's been tried," he said.
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the Consumer Decide
"It's a smart strategy by Facebook to provide more
information, rather than being the one that eliminates information," BU's
"One of the difficulties for Facebook in dealing with
fake news is it doesn't want to seem like some arbitrary censor that picks
what's true and what's not," he continued. "Facebook is saying to its
users, 'You decide what's true and what's not. Here's some tools to do
Allowing consumers to decide for themselves is good in
theory, but it may encounter obstacles in a world of alternative facts.
"We need to wait and see how valuable the related
articles concept is," API's Rosenstiel said. "One truth about
algorithms is that people who want to manipulate them continually adapt to
The jury is out on how successful these latest efforts to
muzzle fake news are likely to be.
"I'm happy to see companies putting some critical
energy towards combating fake news, but I'd prefer to see people developing
stronger media literacy on their own," USC's Marino said.
"For all the knowns we get in a press release from
Google or Facebook about their procedures, there's too many unknowns about how
their black box software operates to begin with," he noted.
The fake news problem may be larger than even behemoths
like Google and Facebook can tackle.
"The essential problem is there's no punishment for
people who tell lies to the world," said Mark Graff, CEO of Tellagraff.
"Even if Google tweaks its algorithms and Facebook
makes it easier to flag fake news, unless there's some cost to spreading lies,
people will use the Internet as a megaphone to spread lies," he told
As laudable as these latest efforts to smother fake news may
be, they raise questions about the human condition in the Internet Age.
"These companies, through an algorithm, actually
shape people's political reality," said Vincent Reynaud, an assistant
professor in the department of communication studies at Emerson College.
He told TechNewsWorld that based on the ability to
control searches or what appears in a news feed, they can impact the way people
understand how politics is working.
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