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Google in fake news storm Google forced to change rankings formula after fake news gains traction - With fake news sites proliferating, Google has been forced to change its approach to page rankings Full view

With fake news sites proliferating, Google has been forced to change its approach to page rankings

Google in fake news storm

The whole truth?

If, like many, you’re worried that we seem to be entering what some are dubbing a ‘post-truth’ era, the emergence of fake internet news sites will only add to your concerns. As more of us use the internet to access stories from around the world, those in search of balanced views from legitimate sources are having to dig a little deeper.

Digital giant Google has recently been pulled into the controversy following November’s US presidential election, amid allegations that it may have played a role in tipping the vote.

Algorithm error

The company had to admit that Google algorithms had placed a rightwing blog falsely claiming that Donald Trump had won more votes than Hillary Clinton in a prominent position in its search engine results page (SERP).

Google said that it aimed to return ‘the most relevant and useful results’, adding that it was ’continually working to improve’ its algorithms.

Google is not the only company under fire, though. Social media platform Facebook was also lambasted for preventing the spread of fake news in advance of the election. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg countered that only a small amount of the election information shared over Facebook was fake, but he did admit that distinguishing the truth was sometimes ‘complicated’.

Playing the percentages

The problem is that Google’s algorithms don’t have a manual override, in case of accusations of bias. Instead, it uses a complex system of search and social media information which, in this case, appears to have propelled the fake 70News post – which was trending heavily on social networks – to the top of the rankings.

Google responded by confirming that it was updating its rules so that in future it would not serve ads on ‘pages that misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about the publisher, the publisher’s content, or the primary purpose of the web property’.

Making the news

Hundreds of fake news websites appeared during the run-up to the US election by people looking to make money from advertising. Bizarrely, the heart of the fake news clickbait empire is a small town in Macedonia. Here, young Macedonians re able to earn thousands of dollars creating pro-Trump articles to attract millions of US citizens.

Not that the entrepreneurs of Veles have their own political agenda, more that Trump stories pay the big bucks. The Facebook business model means that publishers get a percentage of pay-per-click advertising revenue, and, if the proliferation of ‘news’ sites in Macedonia is anything to go by, Americans can’t get enough Trump-Clinton conspiracy stories, whether they’re true or not.

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Written by Diane Nowell