April 17, 2017
Tech giants like Facebook and Google have been flailing when it comes to fake news.
It’s easy to see why. Dealing with fake or questionable news opens Facebook and Google up to questions of censorship, and butts up against our calcified partisanship and algorithmic news bubbles.
Which makes Google’s new fact-checking program an interesting step towards sniffing out fake news. Now, when you type in some controversial topics, such as “does wifi kill plants”, if Snopes, Politifact, or similar site’s search result appears, the result will include a snippet that shows if the story is true, false, or a mix of the two.
Given the scope of the fake news challenge, Google’s slight tweak to the search results may seem like a drop in the bucket. How could a slight change to the page description actually make a difference in the way we digest news?
Believe it or not, there’s two reasons this development is a big deal.
Firstly, it makes fact-checking a part of the news discovery experience. Think about how you digest news on Facebook or Google – thumbing through headline after headline and only clicking into a select few. The personalized way in which we’re served up headlines from certain news sources changes our view of the world as we scroll or swipe. And we see this in search: click-through-rate from mobile search is only about 40% according to Moz, compared to 62% for desktop. Mobile is a browsing platform, while desktop is for searching.
The problem is, there’s no way to verify the accuracy of a search result or even a Google Quick Answers box. The speed of the news cycle and proliferation of blogs on every topic makes it difficult to ensure that what you’re reading is based in fact. Google’s rollout of a unique markup for only a handful of websites changes the experience of browsing results, even if only in a small way.
For now though, this markup won’t affect rank, and not just any website can use it. In order to have these kind of results appear, sites must:
- Use the schema.org ClaimReview markup or Share The Facts widget
- Adhere to the Google News general guidelines
- Be an authoritative source of information according to Google’s algorithms (essentially, be a trusted and established website).
And there’s another reason this may be a big deal: if Google’s history is any indicator, this could be the beginning of a much bigger move. Any time Google makes a significant update to its algorithm, it tests changes at a small scale before rolling them out across different search types, countries and platforms. Soon, automatic fact-checking might be a feature that we take for granted in our daily lives. Perhaps it will even become second nature for us to pause and investigate the news we skim every day.