The internet has become a hotbed of false and inaccurate information. While yellow journalism has been around since medieval times, fake news is an internet-borne epidemic, and its implications have set off great confusion and unrest, worldwide.
People accuse fake news of having increased the polarization between political parties and their supporters. This has led the big guns of the internet, like Google, to crack down on fake news, once and for all.
“Project Owl” is the codename for Google’s initiative to curb the epidemic. During its initial launch in April, the search giant rolled out new ways for users to report content or search results that they perceive to be unreliable or objectionable.
How Dangerous is Fake News?
Fake news and bogus conspiracy theories are nothing new. They have been around even before the internet was born. For centuries, people have used fake news as a weapon to taint public trust, win Infowars, and advance malicious interests.
But, the biggest danger of fake news is that it is divisive. People believe what they want to believe, and malicious groups take advantage of this human frailty to discredit facts and gain profit to the detriment of the community. Those who create and circulate fake news are enemies of the people, and this has led Google to rethink and interfere with its algorithms.
Google’s Three-pronged Approach
The “Project Owl” initiative is part of Google’s ongoing efforts to deliver high-quality content to search engine users. Like Facebook and other internet giants, Google has gotten a lot of flak for allowing offensive and inaccurate content to circulate on the web. But, it has since rolled out algorithm updates to keep problematic content at bay. Here are the changes, so far:
Improved Feedback Tools
When you type in a query, you will see several information boxes, which Google calls “snippets,” on the results pages. These snippets display a small sample of content found on these web pages. One of the biggest changes rolled out via Project Owl is a new feedback form for Featured Snippets answers, which appears on the lower right corner of the box.
With just one click, you can directly report the content if you find something ridiculous, offensive, or false. By clicking the Feedback button, a short survey will ask you what you think of the content. On the same form, you can also make comments, suggestions, or a legal removal request.
Google Suggest, the search engine’s auto-complete function, allows users to see the most frequently searched terms as you type your query. The drop-down feature then lets you choose among the search terms to automatically complete the search.
Over the years, this feature has allowed marketers to see what terms people are searching for in real time. However, many people have been pointing out several instances of Google suggesting outrageous and offensive terms. The problem is that this function diverts users’ attention, sometimes taking them to disturbing web pages.
Improving the auto-complete search suggestions is perhaps the biggest change in this year’s rollout, as Google has been, for the longest time, algorithm-centered. Now, in response to people’s criticism of this feature, Google has created a system to allow people to report these problematic search suggestions.
What’s even worse than fake news is denial content. Denial sites are those that discredit significant events in history, such as the Holocaust. When a user searches or sees a suggestion for “Did the Holocaust happen?” these denial sites would spring up on SERPs.
As a response, Google has decided to take bigger strides to pushing high-quality content to the upper ranks of SERPs. A long-term solution to curbing this issue is to put more emphasis on authoritative content. For Google, this means making sure that no denial sites will appear, and only the most authoritative content will surface for unusual queries. In addition to human feedback, Google promises to make the criteria to determine authority even more refined.
Rebuilding Public Trust
Project Owl is just the beginning of Google’s bid to combat fake news and rebuild public trust. The best minds working on the initiative are combining technology and human expertise to make sure that facts win.
Google’s Call to Action
Google promises more advanced updates in the future, but for now, it calls on all internet users to play their part in the fight against fake news. One way individuals and businesses can help is to take advantage of the new feedback and reporting tools the moment they detect dangerous and inaccurate content.
If truth be told, the fight against fake news is everyone’s fight, as it begins in the individual user’s mind. While the internet can be a breeding ground for dangerous content, it can also be used to search for the truth. Google, among other things, is meant to be a tool to seek and identify the truth.
The fake news and fake history epidemic don’t just affect the media and political landscape; it has also spread to the realms of business. Small businesses to corporations are under direct threat of these malicious activities. But, Google assures that if it defeated black hat SEO tactics, it can beat fake news.