Google is stepping up to the fight against “fake news” by improving its search ranking algorithm, providing greater transparency around how search works and making it easier for people to provide feedback.
Users will be able to complain about offensive, harmful and misleading content through two ‘direct feedback tools’ in the form of a feedback function which appears in search results and a reporting option which appears as part of suggested searches in the Google search bar.
Both features include clearly labeled categories that make it easier for users to flag inappropriate content, with the feedback then being used to help improve Google’s algorithms.
“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,” said Ben Gomes, vice-president of engineering for Google search. “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. And while we may not always get it right, we’re making good progress in tackling the problem.”
According to Gomes, around 0.25 percent of daily queries are returning “offensive or clearly misleading content”. To combat this, Google is introducing new search quality rater guidelines to provide more detailed examples of low-quality webpages for raters to flag and ranking changes to help surface more authoritative changes.
But Google isn’t the only one launching an offensive against the “fake news” epidemic. Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, has announced plans to create a news service that combines the work of volunteers and professional journalists.
The service will be called Wikitribune and will provide “factual and neutral” articles in an ad-free and free-to-access environment, relying on receiving regular donations from visitors rather than putting up paywalls.
“The level of funding for the non-profit organisation will determine the number of journalists that can be employed,” it says on the site’s Wikipedia page. “The subscriptions are expected to be £10 or $15 per month.”
As is the case with Wikipedia, Wikitribune will require writers to include sources for facts and members of the public will be able to edit articles. However, any changes to a page will only go live after they have been approved by a staff member.
There will also be a paid team of writers, the number of which will directly depend on the amount of donations received.
And, while the writers will ultimately decide what gets written about on a day-to-day basis, topics can be influenced by members of the public by flagging their interests when they sign up. For example, if a certain number of people say they are interested in Bitcoin, a specialist journalist will be hired to do that beat full-time.
Speaking to the BBC, Wales said: “I think we’re in a world right now where people are very concerned about making sure we have high quality fact-based information, so I think there will be demand for this.
“We’re getting people to sign up as monthly supporters and the more monthly supporters we have the more journalists we can hire. In terms of minimums, if we could only hire two journalists then it would be a blog and not really worth doing. But I would love to start with a lot more – 10 to 20.”
Wales added that he plans to be “100% hands-on” with Wikitribune and will probably serve as its CEO for at least the first year.
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