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

We're not happy with ourselves, you know


Comment 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 false claims about the cowardly killer, including that he was a Muslim convert, a member of the antifascist movement, a member of a Bernie Sanders political group, and supported Hillary Clinton.

The search engine-slash-ad giant has a market cap of $725bn, makes $90bn in annual revenue, has over 50,000 employees, is absurdly profitable, and serves over one billion users every day. Google responded to this week's complaints by itself complaining that its "ranking algorithms are changing second by second and represent a dynamic conversation that is going on in near real-time."

It also pointed out that the "top stories" news section above the carousel didn’t contain any fake news – unlike a month earlier when it did following the Las Vegas mass shooting.

But that was a quick, defensive first response. Having had time to reflect on the issue, the Silicon Valley monster's "public liaison for search" and former Search Engine Land blog editor Danny Sullivan gave a more, um, considered response in a series of tweets.

"Bottom line: we want to show authoritative information. Much internal talk yesterday on how to improve tweets in search; more will happen," he promised, before noting that the completely bogus information had only appeared "briefly."

Getting better all the time

He then noted and defended Google's spreading of fake news following the Las Vegas murder spree: "This only happened for a few thousands who searched for [the gunman's] name, not for general searches relating to the Las Vegas shooting."

And Sullivan pointed out that – actually – Google had done really well this time not actively promoting false information, even finding time to pat himself on the back. "Early changes put in place after Las Vegas shootings seemed to help with Texas. Incorrect rumors about some suspects didn't get in…"

But back to the, you know, false information spread on Google's search pages following this recent shooting in Texas: "The tweets we carry in results should reflect useful information. We're not happy with ourselves they didn't," adding again, "even if for a short time…"

Anyway, everyone just needs to leave Google alone. S'not fair that everyone is criticizing the multi-billion-dollar faceless corporation just because it promotes false information to billions of people.

"Right now, we haven't made any immediate decisions. We'll be taking some time to test changes and have more discussions," he went on, before finishing up: "Not just talk. Google made changes to Top Stories and is still improving those. We'll do same with tweets. We want to get this right."

All of which sounds absolutely marvelous and well intentioned, and of course we should give it time to think it over... if you assume that Google is a little startup with 10 employees and 1,000 users rather than one of the world's largest corporations and for billions the first source of information about what is going on in the world.

Amazingly, Sullivan and his team don't appear to have considered what everyone else in the entire world would do in a similar situation: test it and perfect in private, rather than shovel crap into public view.

Wake up and smell the coffee substitute

In fact, even though Google – and Facebook and Twitter – were handed their ass last week in US Congress for their roles in spreading thousands of fake stories created by the Russian government's propaganda arm to more than a hundred million Americans, it doesn't seem to have permeated the advertising goliath's brain that it should do more than promise to do better.

In fact, such is the level of Googly delusion that even when people on Twitter suggested that Google kill off the carousels until they work properly, Sullivan responded with a screen grab of a search for "Ronan Farrow" that demonstrated how useful it is. In this case, it showed off the news and Twitter carousel results related to Farrow's journalistic work.

"It does work in many cases and useful, such as here. Yanking it potentially makes search worse for other queries. So better if can improve," said Sullivan. In other words, sure Google's shoddy Twitter-fed carousel of shame is utterly terrible, but hey, it works sometimes.

Only one problem: the screen grab highlighted the exact same problem all over again. "The second [tweet in the carousel] is a quote tweet that doesn't include the tweet being quoted, the third is someone just tweeting the same link as the first tweet," noted tech scribe Peter Bright. "I think that's a really low bar for making search results better." ®

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