back to article Google on flooding the internet with fake news: Leave us alone, we're trying really hard... *sob*

Google has responded in greater depth after it actively promoted fake news about Sunday's Texas murder-suicide gunman by... behaving like a spoilt kid. On Monday, countless netizens noted that the prominently placed Twitter-fed "carousel" of tweets featured on Google's first page of search results contained links to obviously …

  1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    Lessons from Orlowski

    When I read the title of the article, I thought "Orlowski?". The(vulture)Register does not give the author's name on the front page, but you can check places like this to find out if a click bait head line belongs to an author with more opinions than checked facts. As the article made it past the first bar, I started reading. Just about every paragraph triggered warning signals like "an attempt to make me feel anger" and "an attempt to appeal to confirmation bias".

    Google may have 50,000 employees, but the reason why they have $90G anual revenue is many of those 50,000 sell adverts. Presumably a few of them work on Android and a couple more maintain and insanely busy global web server. I have repeatedly come across people who see a whole factory full of employees but cannot get it through their heads that a particular product may have one techy who understands how to change it with perhaps two contractors familiar enough to do something useful at short notice.

    I would like Google to do better at spotting fake news but all this article has done is make me wonder if I should bookmark Kieren's page for the same reason I bookmarked Andrew's.

    1. m0rt Silver badge

      Re: Lessons from Orlowski

      "Google may have 50,000 employees, but the reason why they have $90G anual revenue is many of those 50,000 sell adverts. Presumably a few of them work on Android and a couple more maintain and insanely busy global web server. I have repeatedly come across people who see a whole factory full of employees but cannot get it through their heads that a particular product may have one techy who understands how to change it with perhaps two contractors familiar enough to do something useful at short notice."

      You obviously missed the entire slant of the story. It isn't how Google deal with this or 'fake' news or 'fake fake' news or mis-direction or whatever other crap that is out there...

      It is the rather amateur handling of the event. For one of the biggest companies that ever existed. Ever.

      Sure, we may be talking about one google employee's twitter account, but as his account states, he is the Public Liaison for Search.

      It seems that you read the story, but got pulled into the narrative that the story was reporting on. Whatever you do, don't ever read the Daily Mail. You will never come back from that, I think.

      1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

        Re: Lessons from Orlowski

        Actually I kept getting pulled out of the narrative because I was repeatedly being offered reasons for mindless hate against Google. Try reading the article again but pretend Google drowned your puppy yesterday. You will keep coming across phrases to confirm the bias I am asking you to hold for this exercise. Next, take the barest possible facts out of the article, imagine your puppy playfully chasing his tail and put the facts back into sentences. The bare facts to not have to confirm the seething fury you had when your puppy was dead. It is a matter of presentation. I am not talking about whether the article is true or false (probably various states in between). What concerns me is the way the article is intended to make me feel. At felt like an attempt to get me to feel common cause with the author and sufficiently angry to suspend critical thinking.

        1. m0rt Silver badge

          Re: Lessons from Orlowski

          Actually if G had drowned my puppy, or in my case cat, I would be inclined to a website called googledrownedmycat.net and promptly write endless bile about them.

          As it stands, i don't get the same bias you do.

          It could be that I am naturally biased against google which means it is like asking me to describe air. I mean I think Google are run by a bunch of self serving narcissistic with self referrential confirmations of saviourism...I thought I should state this up front. But I don't read anything different to the general tone of El Reg, which is why I keep coming here for the past 17 years.

          That isn't to say that I don't detect jounalstic issues from time to time, my last one being AO's claim to have prior use of MLF before MiLF. But they did correct the article. Now that is responsive journalism. :)

          1. sabroni Silver badge

            Re: Lessons from Orlowski

            If you only read articles written by people you agree with you'll never understand other points of view. I read the Daily Mail (online) most days, not because I'm a racist but because it's useful to see how stories are presented from different perspectives.

            Besides, if you stop reading these pieces who's going to point out the flaws?

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Lessons from Orlowski

              "I read the Daily Mail (online) most days, not because I'm a racist but because it's useful to see how stories are presented from different perspectives."

              Good for you, though I find I can't make it through more than a paragraph or so before the vileness of the Mail's rhetoric makes me sick, angry, or both. The only part of their output I can tolerate at all is the mindless fluff that they pump out about celebrities (which I tend not to read for completely different reasons).

              For differing perspectives I tend to stick with the Telegraph, Guardian and Independent. The Graun is probably the most annoying of the three, but when it comes to left-leaning newspapers we're not exactly spoilt for choice in the UK.

        2. big_D Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: Lessons from Orlowski

          The problem is, these companies seem to think, because they work on a mega scale, they have less responsibility than smaller media companies, who are bound by ethics and laws.

          The problem with the adverts and posts in the election race being a case in point, here media organisations have strict rules they have to adhere to, whilst Goofle, Twatter and Faceplant claim they are so big that the laws can't possibly apply to them and the shere volume of adverts being submitted can't be checked.

          Well, guess what, as old-style companies got bigger in the past and had more advertising, they still had to vet all of those additional adverts, so they had to hire additional staff to ensure the adverts were LEGAL before they were published.

          The Times or Fox etc. couldn't claim they only had 1 person responsible for adverts, so they couldn't vet every advert, sorry. They had to check those adverts, because they were legally responsible for them, so the advertising group had to expand to cope with demand.

          Now fast forward to today, those traditional media companies are still hampered in this way, but GTF & Co. just don't bother, they set up automated portals for submitting adverts and a quick "automated" check of the advert and wham, it goes out to thousands or millions of people.

          These automated checks are so good, that GTF keep serving malware to victims of their advertising, but no, they aren't responsible for the damage THEY cause, because they couldn't be bothered to THEIR PRIMARY JOB properly. And that is even before we get to the question of whether the adverts are even legal!

          In Germany, if your web server causes damage to another website or end users, you are responsible for compensating them for any damages incurred. I.e. it is your responsibility to ensure that the site is secure and not being used to attack other sites or distribute malware.

        3. mstreet

          Re: Lessons from Orlowski

          "felt like an attempt to get me to feel common cause with the author and sufficiently angry to suspend critical thinking"

          So, you are upset the article was written in such a way, that it presented the viewpoint of the author strongly enough that you had an emotional response?

          With the exception of people who write things like dictionaries and encyclopedias, isn't that pretty much the objective of every author...ever?

          They are called opinions. People are allowed to have them, even if they don't agree with your world view.

          1. Daggerchild Silver badge

            Re: Lessons from Orlowski

            "So, you are upset the article was written in such a way, that it presented the viewpoint of the author strongly enough that you had an emotional response?"

            Naw, he's upset that it's dangerous to casually throw things from this height. Also, "Responsibility is proportional to influence" is inscribed on the weapon used in this beating. You didn't notice the crazy hippo?

            "isn't that pretty much the objective of every author...ever?"

            Er, no. Mined and refined clarity is difficult to make, expensive, and takes skill, and is also the lifeblood of civilisation. I come here to acquire that product. That you can use the same skills to just make popular opiods, while obvious, is not seen as a noble art where I come from.

          2. Aynon Yuser

            Re: Lessons from Orlowski

            *teehee* A literal chuckle out of me. Brava.

    2. Dan 55 Silver badge
      Flame

      Re: Lessons from Orlowski

      I think most regulars have tuned our headline regex filters to detect Andrew.

      Now does that let Google off the hook?

      No, no it doesn't.

      The level of effluent that emanates from Silicon Valley is damaging society. There isn't a second that goes by without Google giving a Tweet containing a link to a Facebook page full of conspiracy theories the same prominence as news organisations which still cling on to ancient rituals like getting a couple of reliable sources before going ahead with a story. YouTube is full of videos of drug cartel shoot outs, neo-Nazis, ISIS beheadings and YouTube kids is full of extremely dodgy videos aimed at children.

      Their advertising network serves malware, their Play Store serves malware, and YouTube and Google News serve malware for wetware. They aren't very good at what they do and they don't even realise they've got a problem. Google's response is always "it's not us, it's the algorithms", "please flag it and it'll go away someday", "oops, never mind, we'll try better, give us a little while would you". They have a RDF bigger than anything Apple ever had back in the day which means they've got away with it for far longer than they should have.

      Unfortunately they make up a lot of the Internet, and when politicians finally do come down on them like a tonne of bricks, everything else is going to get caught up in it too.

      1. macjules Silver badge

        Re: Lessons from Orlowski

        The level of effluent that emanates from Silicon Valley is damaging society.

        Already has damaged society. If Google are so desperate to be a 'news' organisation then why not hire editors who can check what is appearing in the search engine, with the powers to flag as 'probable fake news'.

        Failing that, just hire Richard Littlejohn and Katie Hopkins, at least that way we will know that the news is all fake.

      2. Daggerchild Silver badge

        Re: Lessons from Orlowski

        Strewth. This is why I despair of my species. Here we go again.

        All those toxic things we're being exposed to are humans. The technology lowers the friction and connects humans together faster. That is its job.

        Now people demand that the technology filter the toxic humans out. But, it's not a filter. It never was. And it mustn't be. Demanding they create a working humanity-censoring engine is stupidly dangerous.

        Why is hate so delicious these days? Where did all these restaurants of righteous outrage spring from?

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Lessons from Orlowski

        "Unfortunately they make up a lot of the Internet..."

        But they don't at all. _WE_ make up a lot of the internet and Google just stands in the middle flogging back what we do for profit. Once you really understand this, you see just how fragile Google or any search engine is.

        Google's employeed techniques of convincing everyone how big they are (which is actually how big we are) and how non-evil they are (which such statements for profit is evil itself) better persist, else the fish bowl might dry up.

    3. Daggerchild Silver badge

      Re: Lessons from Orlowski

      For what it's worth I agree with you - I noticed a sudden recent souring of tone on this subject, so that I began making the same assumptions you did, and tellingly, this one is all about attacking the man, not the ball.

      There is no point fighting though. Not here. This is a popularity contest, not an exam.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Lessons from Orlowski

      Or maybe not class twitter as news?

    5. strum Silver badge

      Re: Lessons from Orlowski

      The real thing that's wrong here is the assumption that G could easily fix this, if only they could be bothered. OK, then - how?

      I'm quite sure G would just love to have some magic wand, which would send fake news to oblivion and promote the Pure Unvarnished Truth to the front page. They would even invest millions into such a solution.

      But, even though a human might spot a fake relatively easily, it's a damn sight harder to define the characteristics that define a fake, and weave that into an algorithm.

      The author of this article is having a go at Google, because they're Google, not because they're wrong.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Lessons from Orlowski

        The real thing that's wrong here is the assumption that G could easily fix this, if only they could be bothered. OK, then - how?

        I'm quite sure G would just love to have some magic wand, which would send fake news to oblivion and promote the Pure Unvarnished Truth to the front page. They would even invest millions into such a solution.

        Easy: employ more humans who actually look for this stuff, but that's the exact allergy that Silicon Valley has in general, they translate "people" as "cost centre". "Millions" buy quite a few warm bodies that still beat the crap out of any algorithm, because, you know, we're human but that is the exact solution that Google wants to avoid.

        If you want to pretend to publish news you actually have to put the effort in, shocking as it is.

        1. Daggerchild Silver badge

          Re: Lessons from Orlowski

          "Millions" buy quite a few warm bodies that still beat the crap out of any algorithm, because, you know, we're human"

          I respectfully call this a pile of poopy. Have you tried moderating the realtime output of the human race lately? Also, have you *seen* humans? They're all biased closed-source algorithms!

          You do raise a good point however:

          "If you want to pretend to publish news you actually have to put the effort in, shocking as it is."

          Should you be allowed to collate news if you don't have human editors? Is it news, or something else, something dangerous?

          Should automated public reporting be banned? Should the realtime zeitgeist only be available to human reporters others subscribe to? It might be a way of forcing humans to pay for journalism before their apathy destroys its industry.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Lessons from Orlowski

            I respectfully call this a pile of poopy. Have you tried moderating the realtime output of the human race lately? Also, have you *seen* humans? They're all biased closed-source algorithms!

            True, but it strikes me that outfits like Google are VERY keen to get the volume, but not so keen on accepting the responsibility that that comes with.

  2. Bob Dole (tm)
    Facepalm

    Lulz

    The tweets we carry in results should reflect useful information

    When has a tweet ever actually contained useful information?

    1. big_D Silver badge
      Angel

      Re: Lulz

      Well, I haven't tweeted for a couple of years, so I guess, a couple of years?

  3. Syntax Error

    Useless lame company. 100% fake company.

    1. sabroni Silver badge
  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    'it should do more than promise to do better'

    Why? Google doesn't have to... As along as there's an endless stream of gimps to keep using its services, nothing will ever change. Such is the reality of tech, and its amazing Reality-Distortion-Field 'Wonderwall'!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why?

      Problem telling the difference between "should" and "has to"....?

    2. big_D Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: 'it should do more than promise to do better'

      True, laws seem to be for other companies, everything inside Silicon Valley seems to exist in a legal exemption field.

      What is scary is, I have just read "The Circle" and it is a little too close for comfort.

      Will the last one out please turn off the Internet before they go.

      Mine's the one with the tinfoil hoody.

      1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        Thumb Up

        Re: 'it should do more than promise to do better'

        I have just read "The Circle" and it is a little too close for comfort.

        Have an upvote. I'm about 2/3 of the way through it and, yes, it's scary how plausible the Circle is.

        It's a must read.

        SHARING IS CARING

        ALL ANIMALS ARE EQUAL

        FREEDOM IS SLAVERY

        1. big_D Silver badge
          Big Brother

          Re: 'it should do more than promise to do better'

          PRIVACY IS THEFT

          SECRETS ARE LIES

          Maybe Dave Eggers and Daniel Suarez should collaborate on a new book... Daemon Circle

        2. Not also known as SC

          Re: 'it should do more than promise to do better'

          Can I also mention the short story "Timeline" (also in the collection of short stories "Auto") by David Wailing for a really dystopian view of a future society where everything you do is on social media.

    3. rmason Silver badge

      Not their job

      I get that fake news is bad, but only because we've turned out two generations half of whom are intelligent and half are cretins. (In my mid 30s so absolutely fall into on of those "generations")

      It is not the job of google to police what people read or think. It is not google's fault that literally millions of arseholes both generate and believe this sort of thing. When it's done deliberately, and on such a massive scale what are they supposed to do?

      Short of delaying and moderating every individual utterance from every blog, webpage and social media outlet they will never, EVER stop idiots lapping up and believing everything they read that fits their sad, small world view. In fact most will actively seek it by only following or reading those outlets/people on social media who spout things they agree with.

      It's absolutely impossible.

      Just because a growing percentage of the population are idiots who will never, ever take the time to fact check or research anything, who will go out of their way to have their racist/xenophobic/homophobic/insert prejudice here/bigotry confirmed and supported by others doesn't mean the people providing one tool to view this stuff have any sort of responsibility to "fix" anything.

      It isn't google that's broken, it's poor education systems, idiotic and hateful parents raising a generation of idiotic and hateful children.

      Can we "fix" things like significant portions of one of the largest powers on earth believing in "creationism" and even teaching it in a portion of their schools? Can we fix things like important decisions being made by elderly men who believe being gay is a deplorable crime? People who make decisions based on translations of fiction books a few hundred years old?

      Lets fix things that cause "the stupid" before we make google responsible for letting stupid people read things they will believe because it confirms what they think.

      1. MonkeyCee Silver badge

        Re: Not their job

        "Can we fix things like important decisions being made by elderly men who believe being gay is a deplorable crime?"

        Well no. Apparently anyway.

        Even in the most tolerant of Western societies*, even after lengthy battles against discrimination, even after gay marriage being legalised, about 20% of the adult population not only think that homosexuality should be criminalised, but also are willing to publically admit this. Northern Europe it's about 25%, maybe 30% in Southern Europe and USA, and 30-50% for the rest of the world.

        So unfortunately it's not tied to old men, it's pretty universal across the demographic spectrum.

        *for LGBTQ stuff, which is Oz and NZ apparently

        1. Teiwaz Silver badge

          Re: Not their job

          about 20% of the adult population not only think that homosexuality should be criminalised, but also are willing to publically admit this.

          I think it's the overrepresentation in TV presenter spectrum in the last ten years.

      2. big_D Silver badge

        Re: Not their job

        The stupidity of Google users still doesn't free Google from its legal responsibilities, especially for adverts. Every other ad-slinger (newspapers, media conglomerates etc.) has to check every ad is legal, before they can be published. Google is responsible for putting more ads in front of more eyes than any other ad-slinger, so why should they be exempt from this responsibility?

        Because there are "too many" adverts? That is Google's problem to solve, BEFORE they publish the ads, not the law enforcers to turn a blind eye.

        1. rmason Silver badge

          Re: Not their job

          In the most part it's not adverts that are the problem, it's social media, blogs, websites setup by randoms for laughs or for whatever motive (clicks, money etc).

          I agree they have to sanitise adverts, thye aren't 'live' like news and social media, but that's not the key issue here, it's tweets, social media and all the other random outpourings that are indexed and presented with results.

          I agree that as an advertiser they could do more, but the rest of the stuff is just internet content, NOT adverts, and that it what I was referring to.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not their job

        Not their job, just their profit.

        You're whole statement rings true until you remember Google is SELLING something fake. From a business view, it's false advertising, and Google doesn't really care (caring cost money).

  5. tom dial Silver badge

    I do not think of Google (the search part) as a publisher in the usual sense, but as an indexing service to the largish amount of information on a substantial number of websites. It seems to be organized, to a first approximation, according to some measure of what users have found interesting or informative, for some internal definition of the terms, and it apparently is done by algoritmic processes that have no intrinsic measure of "truth". The natural result of that will be that the outlandish or extreme versions of some news items will be amplified, as may have happened with respect to the Las Vegas and San Antonio spree shootings. I don't find that either surprising or especially offensive.

    Even if Google were a "publisher," it would not, in the US, be under any obligation whatever even to care about whether what it published was true or false, although it would need to be careful about whether it was defamatory and therefore actionable. We have a long history of "fake news" here, and despite the general high dudgeon in the Congress and elsewhere, there is no real chance that the government will be able to legislate effectively in this area due to the first amendment to the Constitution, which protects all publishers, including The Register.

    I rather wish Google, along with Facebook, Twitter, and others possibly to be targeted in future, had the stones to resist the moral panic being induced by the Congress and media, which, considered rationally, is disproportionate by many orders of magnitude to any actual risk or damage.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      They are a publisher. They present information and report the news. In doing so, they have a duty to either get the info presented as factually accurate or have a heading saying 'some of these results will be bollocks, because people write crap and we're really only interested in selling you adverts'

      1. Adam 52 Silver badge

        Google News claims to report the news.

        Google Search claims to search the Internet.

        Google Sites is a publisher.

        Google Scholar searches academic papers.

        Should Google censor the Internet to only report its version of the facts? Should Google Scholar not find controversial research? Should Google Sites prevent those with unconventional (but legal [for some values of legal]) views from publishing them?

        1. tom dial Silver badge

          @Adam 52 & immediately previous AC:

          The article spoke to Google search results, as I did as well. However:

          Google News claims to aggregate results from a wide range of News sites, and provides links along with a user filter capability . That is to say, it indexes web sites.

          Google Sites appears to be a service offering users, at no cost, the capability to set up web sites to do their own publishing.

          Google Scholar indexes scholarly books and articles. It does not publish them.

          Only in a rather strange alternative universe do any of these qualify as publishing.

          The intent of the questions about censorshop escapes me The obvious answer is no; and in the US the first amendment generally prohibits the government from enacting and enforcing laws that would do so, with quite limited and narrow exceptions.

  6. Timmy B Silver badge

    @tom dial - you have it right...

    I see google as a massive card index to a library. They help you find information in the area that you are looking for. It is then for you to use your eyes and brain and other similar sources to validate what you are reading. The problem is that we are losing the ability to think critically and often the first google result or Wikipedia page is treated as gospel.

    1. big_D Silver badge

      Re: @tom dial - you have it right...

      If only that were the case.

      That was how they started out and if you had said that 15 - 20 years ago, I would agree with you. But it is patently not the case today. They are an ad pusher first and foremost and then there are all the other products that have appeared over the last 2 decades. Now that card index is just an excuse to link everything else they do together and has turned into a by-product of gaining information for their other services.

      1. tom dial Silver badge

        Re: @tom dial - you have it right...

        That Google (and similar link aggregators/indexers) sell advertising to pay for the services they provide the public at no charge does not change the nature of those services. Some, and I do not exclude myself, find the data collection that increases the value of their advertising business offerings a bit creepy sometimes. That also does not change the nature of the no-charge services, although it may make the word "free" a bit less accurate as a description. In the end, though we, the users, can choose whether to use Google, another similar (and likely ad supported) service, or none at all, with the associated and varying benefits.

    2. Warm Braw Silver badge

      Re: @tom dial - you have it right...

      I see google as a massive card index to a library.

      But a library contains books: content that has been chosen by publishers who take responsibility for it. And in most cases further curated by librarians who make careful decisions about how to spend their limited budgets.

      Lacking the inclination to act as either publisher or librarian, Google is more like an index to every conversation that has ever happened and every word that has ever been written whether it be in a book or on a toilet door. It's pretty much inevitable that the algorithms that it applies in the absence of human oversight are going to favour the sensational.

  7. Bibbit

    Give Google a break

    Their motto is "don't be evil" not "don't be incompetent" or "don't be profitable". Unless the incompetence begets evil, I suppose. Does proxy-evil count? I must think on this further.

    PS: If you want to see what happens when you combine incompetence AND evil, check out the UK government. Makes me proud to be British.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Give Google a break

      PS: If you want to see what happens when you combine incompetence AND evil, check out the UK government. Makes me proud to be British.

      You're not talking about Form 106 are you? Revision J?

      AAAAAARRRRRRRGGGGGGGHHHHHHHH! (runs away screaming, just in case you answer, "Yes.").

  8. Tom 7 Silver badge

    Fake mewls.

    NT

  9. rmason Silver badge

    They aren't being "incompetent".

    The job of a search provider and advertising seller is to sell adverts, and to serve up the data people search for. That means all the data that is out there, it's not their fault people will read and accept stuff that isn't true.

    If Gazza, the 47 year old life long benefits claimant thinks muslims are evil and the root of all his and our problems, then of course he's not going to search past the first tweet or article he sees that confirms that the evil-doer of the day in america is a muslim. Google will *also* have served him with the *correct* information, he's either chosen not to read it or read it and dismissed it because he really doesn't care for facts that don't fit his world view.

    It's not their job to ensure the bloody mouth breathers never see anything that it's factual.

    Google aren't incompetent, or evil. They aren't supposed to be "editing" anything except by deciding how it ranks in terms of relevance to your search.

    1. Bibbit

      Good points.

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      But Google are editing stuff. That's the whole bloody point. If they put certain searches to the top of the list, then they are selecting criteria to do this in their algorithm design. Which is a human choice, and an act of editing.

      More specifically if they promote certain tweets to the top of the page as more relevant, then people have a right to assume that they're more relevant. Because that's what Google meant when they put them there. So they should try to make sure that they get this right, or they should stop doing it.

      If Google were just a plain search index, like they used to be, then they'd be in a lot less trouble.

      Also, if they (and Facebook and Twitter) took money from a foreign government in order to have some influence on the last US election - they're also responsible for that. Doing that was a decision. As the Facebook chappy said in that Senate hearing last week, we didn't consider that the Russian Government propoganda organisation RT paying us to post adverts on the US election could be a problem until afterwards. I guess that shiny money was just tooooo distracting...

      Google make vast profits. They want to select and personalise what people see. In order to increase their profits. And that's fair enough. But if they do so, they need to take responsibility for the consequences.

      They also hoover a lot of the advertising revenue up from the traditional news media, by displaying their content - and thus taking users away from those media organisations' websites. Thus they're depriving income to organisations that at least make some serious attempt to fact check. As a society we need the media to do those things. So in the end we either need to pay our media directly to do this (by buying subs or paying taxes), or we need to force Google to hand that cash back, or we need to force Google to take on some of that fact-checking along with that money. Or we dispense with that fact checking, and decide we don't care about democracy.

      1. tom dial Silver badge

        This would be more persuasive with a cite to evidence that the Google presentation does not, to a first approximation (after the paid advertisements), present links in roughly descending order of frequency of access by their users. They certainly have tweaked it a bit, but it is not at all obvious that a reasonable amount of reordering as a result of algorithm tuning would change the basic indexing operation to "publication" and even less obvious that this would represent human choice when applied to particular instances in a very large collection.

        The claim that Google "promotes" certain tweets to the top implies a good deal more agency than is likely to occur. My guess is that tweets wind up at the top largely because they are retweeted a lot, as will likely happen with those that are startling or cater to widespread stereotypes or biases.

        Accepting advertisements from foreign entities relating to matters discussed in a US political campaign, including RT but certainly not limited to either it or Russian entities, appears not to be illegal in general. Accepting "electioneering communication" may be illegal, but what has been reported about the ads in question, whether to Google, Facebook, or Twitter, seems not to be "electioneering communication" as the term is used in the US Code and Code of Federal Regulations.

        Whether Google and similar portals damage the traditional news media is uncertain. I seem to recall that several Google deindexed some European news organizations that demanded payment from them in exchange for indexing; and my recollection, if accurate, is that the traffic to those sites dropped immediately and dramatically, to the point that the organizations dropped their demand within a few days. It is clear that printed news media are in a long term secular decline as more people get their news from online sources. That is a potential problem, to the extent that the online sources such as Breitbart are able to compete effectively with the much more expensive operations of traditional news organizations like the New York Times which have news staffs that actually seek out and report news. I do not know the ultimate answer to that, but try to do my part by subscribing to the New York Times, the Washington Post (online), and a local newspaper.

        The notion that we might "need to force Google to take on some of [the traditional news media] fact-checking" cannot be taken seriously. It might be legally possible in some countries, but not in the US, where the first amendment largely prohibits the government from requiring it.

        One might think this could be circumvented by requiring those, like Google, who provide easy access to articles that may contain lies and misstatements, to check facts and screen out false statements. On cursory consideration, though, that seems unlikely to be practical. Even if legislated, it would place Google and the others in the position of being editors and publishers, and therefore exempt under the first amendment. Moreover, such a requirement would be easily enough circumvented at the source, simply by following the example of the New York Times, Washington Post, Fox News, MSNBC, and other traditional news organizations to present the facts fairly accurately in a slanted context of emotionally loaded words to convey an implicit message about goodness or badness. The article ahead of of this comment string is a case in point.

  10. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Goggles

    Google's search and ranking algorithms went to pot several years ago and have been accelerating downhill since. Once they made money by finding you useful information based on your search query and displaying adverts - now they make money by trying to sell you stuff. I don't go to the Internet for news, it's all crap.

    I stopped trusting all news feed aggregators in the run up to the US election and now subscribe to newspapers that I trust, or at least have clear biases that can be seen - and thus filtered out, when I read their stories.

    Fake News? Mass shootings? Biased news? Manipulated POV? It's all become the new normal in the US.

    1. bazza Silver badge

      Re: Goggles

      I got fed up of Google's poor search long ago. It's woeful. There's little point looking for specialised information these days. Quite often I want an exact string match; can't be done any more. Alta Vista, Alta Vista, my kingdom for an Alta Vista!

      So I use Bing instead. No, it's no better, but at least I'm not feeding Google with fake confidence.

      1. tiggity Silver badge

        Re: Goggles

        Try aggregating / metasearch engines, e.g. Dogpile, IxQuick, Metacrawler etc.

      2. Teiwaz Silver badge

        Re: Goggles

        So I use Bing instead. No, it's no better, but at least I'm not feeding Google with fake confidence.

        Instead, you feed Microsoft with fake confidence. Indian Giver!!

  11. j.bourne

    Since when were Google - or search engines generally proclaimed arbitrators of what is true and what is not?

    I thought they (search engines) were arbitrators of relevance to the search terms being used - no more, no less.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What is Google?

    I think of Google as a search engine. As such, when their news aggregator pumps out a pile of crap it's just an accurate reflection that the web itself is full of crap. Quelle surprise.

    However, Google appear to be trying to push themselves as some sort of trusted news source - having a specific news feed implies that there's at least some sort of editorial control going on. The recent debacle shows that the measures they have in place are woefully unable to deal with the sheer level of idiocy and fake information that's out there on the web. Google only have themselves to blame for this.

    The problem is that Google are essentially a one trick pony; algorithms for everything. If something is too subtle or difficult to be puzzled out by an algorithm then they're going to do badly, sometimes spectacularly so. Turns out that the role of "News Editor" is one of those tasks that can't be done well by an algorithm, but don't hold your breath for google to employ people to do this job properly - that would be anathema for them. They're far more likely to rebrand, relabel or refocus their news feed to make it clear that they're taking no responsibility, and move on. In many ways, this would be a good outcome - google does the grunt work of finding stuff for you, and responsibility for deciding whether it's true or a pile of crap is down to a human - the user themself. If instead you want a properly curated, authoritative news source there are plenty of alternatives available.

    Incidentally, this isn't just a Google problem. I keep seeing articles about machines replacing humans recently. Talk about machines replacing human engineers, doctors, lawyers etc. parroted by breathless hacks who don't know the difference between an expert system and a true AI. Anywhere you see an attempt at complete replacement of humans by machines you're going to see similar quality problems (and outright failures) as Google's attempt to become a trustworthy news source.

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: What is Google?

      I find Private Eye's malgorithms sum up the how issue of computer driven news ... you can flowchart it, code it and test it and you'll continue the cycle until it's right, and then something new appears and it's wrong again...

      The Google "News" page has only one useful function - testing if your internet connection is "live" and not displaying a cached copy. ... other than that, it's complete rubbish.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No different that any other large Internet company...

    So;

    Google not policing fake news,

    Twitter not stamping out illegal content, racism and fake news,

    Facebook not stamping out fake/scam adverts and promoted posts (really? a Samsung S8 for only £3?) or racism, illegal content or fake news.

    The issue isn't with the company. It is with who controls the content publication which in this case is the author.

    Stupid and/or malicious people are always going to post the above - the only way to stop that would be to have an army of moderators and/or a content management approval process prior to it being posted (which isn't going to happen due to complaints of censorship and free speech).

    There is a Facebook group with just 100 posters and there are 6 moderators pretty much vetting every post - unpaid. How many moderators would the above companies need?

  14. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    In these post-startup days, the major search players should understand they have a larger role than simply enabling confirmation bias* on a global scale.

    Unless they want to stop peddling headlines, of course. If all they do is array spidered results on a homepage, I'll give them a pass. The moment they start fiddling with the list they start tearing up their pass, and when they purport to spread "news" their pass is revoked with extreme prejudice of the plum-kicking variety.

    * Bias on many sides, many sides.

  15. Detective Emil

    We asked Google to comment, but …

    I wonder why that ritually-included line was missing from the story. Maybe, like the rest of us, Kieren does not know the spells and incantations required actually to get in touch with a real person at Google, rather than some algorithm for which a spokesperson may later disclaim responsibility in a press release if its actions are more than usually crass. Or maybe tagging a piece as "opinion" absolves the author from seeking a response.

  16. DCFusor Silver badge

    Because I'm a dependent loser

    Who requires google's free services, they are therefore obligated to do the work I insist they owe me for using their free lunch? TAASTAAFL.

    I have no other way of finding out the news. It's all google's fault I can't find the truth unambiguously without doing some work or otherwise lifting a finger. Because they're easy, I insist they be perfect, or I'll quit giving them no money. Making what's out there - true or false, available to me implies that it's all true by just being out there. Like you know, there's nothing out there if it's not true, or as we used to say "the paper won't take ink if it's a lie".

    And after all, 100% of the other sources I have are 100% truth. Only google has this problem. I can count on "any big media" empire - you know, the ones who charge - to always tell me truth and ignore fake news except to debunk it.

    Srsly?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Because I'm a dependent loser

      I'll take your post as a useful devil's advocate, so I've upvoted you (to balance the downvote you already had).

      You make some very good points, which I'd wholeheartedly agree with if we were just talking about google search. However, by creating a separate page dedicated solely to news articles Google have at the very least posed as a news outlet, and are therefore being rated in comparison to other news outlets. And I don't see the BBC falling for some of the obvious rubbish that google are posting prominent links to.

      Google brought this on themselves, and they deserve to take a bit of heat for it.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Marketing excerise

    The latest set of claims seem to be that the electorate was "hacked" by ads - which demonstrates the contempt the political class have for their fellow citizens (essentially saying that they are mindless sheep who really shouldn't have the vote).

    The social media platforms are taking the aphorism about the non-existence of bad publicity to heart. The admissions of "guilt" and the "our bad" stance in public will translate into a marketing pitch of "see how effective our advertising is" while in private sales meetings.

    I would take this all with a grain of salt.

    1. tom dial Silver badge

      Re: Marketing excerise

      This is a fairly standard moral panic. Unkile the McMartin and Little Rascals cases, however, we are not going to be handing out sentences to the principals of RT or the Internet Study Group, which are not under US jurisdiction. It will be interesting to watch the course of a moral panic that cannot be resolved by judicial lynching.

  18. Jim Birch

    Right! Let's get Google to censor the news. Easy!

    Does anyone notice a teeny little problem with this? Like: Who decides what is the "right" news or web sites? Does Google have the expertise? What happens when they censor the stuff you don't want to be censored?

    You are really proposing a China-like control over what is allowed to be said. What's more, it's totally fucking pathetic that people (are so full of themselves that they) think that because they "know" what's fake news, it's so easy to tell. Fake truth is not a new problem, it has been argued for thousands of years. The internet just throws it in your face at an astronomically higher speed.

    If there is going to be a system of censorship it's going to require a small army of "faceless bureaucrats" running it because the net is big. Do you trust Google to do this? The government? Who? A team of right-thinking people somewhere, who coincidentally think the same as you, perhaps? Problem solved? I think not. Perhaps I'm in a waning minority, but I don't consider my own views to be the final word on anything. Or anyone else's. Censorship is a Gordian knot.

    Personally, I don't have problem with censoring the internet - the opportunities for unscrupulous manipulation are enormous - but it is a not a trivial problem. It is also a cultural shift, a direct challenge to a couple of centuries of liberal mythology which most of us, in the west at least, regard as self-evident truth.

    Anyone got any good (non-magical) ideas on how this censorship will actually work? At the moment I'm thinking Google's AI might be our best hope but we're certainly not there yet...

    1. tom dial Silver badge

      don't have problem with censoring the internet

      I almost gave this an upvote, but cancelled it on seeing "don't have problem with censoring the internet ..."

      There is much more wrong with that than matters of (current) impracticality that, in principle might be overcome by suitable future developments in artificial (=machine implemented) intelligence. It embodies a view of the nature of man that experience very strongly suggests is not only wrong, but unalterably and permanently wrong, or perhaps that humans are capable of implementing a disinterested and sufficiently intelligent machine to do the censorship work *and* are selfless and trusting enough to enable it to do so. Landru, anyone?

    2. Bob Dole (tm)
      Alert

      Right! Let's get Google to censor the news. Easy!

      Does anyone notice a teeny little problem with this? Like: Who decides what is the "right" news or web sites? Does Google have the expertise? What happens when they censor the stuff you don't want to be censored?

      You realize, of course, that by the very nature of limiting news down to say the top 5 stories and by routinely placing certain publication's stories above stories published elsewhere, Google is, in effect, already censoring the news?

      It's not quite the same thing as denying the other news exists but it is still highly effective in pushing certain agendas.

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