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Google announces latest effort to tackle fake news in search results

Google has announced changes to its search algorithms and new features designed to “surface more high quality content from the web,” and help stem the tide of so-called ‘fake news’.

The company revealed its plans in a blog post, in which Google Search’s vice president of engineering, Ben Gomes, explained the improvements to search rankings and new reporting tools for users.
According to the company, which last month updated its search quality guidelines as part of its fight against fake news, said around 0.25% of its results had “offensive or clearly misleading content.”

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Google has been criticised recently for giving prominence to misleading and ‘offensive’ results, with users complaining in December of content from Holocaust deniers appearing when the query “did the Holocaust happen’ was entered into the search engine.

Gomes writes: “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.”

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The company says it has now improved its evaluation methods “and made algorithmic updates to surface more authoritative content”.

Changes to search rankings and updates to the guidelines provided to ‘evaluators” – real people who assess the quality of Google’s search results – are the two main changes Google has made to improve the quality of content in search results.

The company has also added new tools that allow users to flag content that appears in both Autocomplete predictions and ‘Featured Snippets’ – cards at the top of the page which show highlights of information relevant to the search terms.

Gomes writes: “These new feedback mechanisms include clearly labelled categories so you can inform us directly if you find sensitive or unhelpful content. We plan to use this feedback to help improve our algorithms.”

Google’s latest move in the fight against fake news comes after Facebook announced similar measures to combat misleading content.

Earlier this month, the social network debuted a new tool that will appear at the top of the News Feed for Facebook users in 14 different countries, and contains educational guidance on how to uncover false stories.

Is Google fighting a losing battle? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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