By has (Allcott, 2016). Fake news first

By 2025,
50% of children will be autistic (Oxenham, 2015). Recently, NASA discovered that
the earth has a second moon. (Yates, 2016). The United Nations plans to ban homework. (Yates,
2016).
These are all examples of “fake news stories” which have circulated in our
media in the past year. 2016 saw the rise of the term “fake news” made popular
by President Donald Trump, and this year the term has been named the “word of
the year” for 2017, but what exactly does fake news refer to (Flood,
2017)? Fake
news can be defined as purposely spreading false information under the pretext
of being authentic news. This fake information is able to spread and have
impact via social media outlets such as Facebook and Google (Allcott,
2017). This
essay will further examine the role of Google in contributing to the issue but
also it’s attempt, through various initiatives, to solve it. To begin, further
background information will be given on the issue of fake news. Next, the
history, purpose and structure of Google will be described. Afterwards, the
various positions taken and Google’s various initiative will be highlighted and
finally critiqued.

 

 

Real Information on
the Fake News Issue

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To begin, while
the issue of fake news might seem like a new phenomena, it has been present in
our society longer than objective news has (Allcott, 2016). Fake news first
emerged in 1439 with the invention of the printing press. In those days, it was
hard to tell fact from fiction in the printed news and the printed press aloud
for this false information to be mass printed and thus have a greater reach. The
fake information spread tended to be sensationalist and extreme in order to
emphasize individual’s prejudices. For instance, in 1475, an anti-sematic story
was spread which stipulated that Jewish people were killing young Christian
children and drinking their blood for Passover. This false story spurred hate
towards this religious group and strengthened already present prejudices. At
its worst, fake information can also provoke violence against certain groups. Many
cases of fake news stories against already marginalized groups were printed and
spread in the 19th century. More specifically, in the 1800s fake
news reports about African Americans and Irishmen were printed which lead
violent outbreaks against these communities. It is this violence which lead to
the protest by the public for objective journalism based on factual news. In the
20th century, objective journalism became the dominant business
model and is still in place today (Allcott, 2016). However, the
introduction of social media has dramatically altered the way we consume
journalism. A recent study has shown that 62% of US adults get their news from
social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter (Soll, 2016). Furthermore, social
media has lead to the re-emergence of fake news in our society and is
increasingly becoming an issue because it is widespread and hard for readers to
spot (Soll, 2016).

 

Social media
is responsible for the re-emergence of fake news in our society but what makes
social media sites such as Facebook and Google conducive to the spreading of
false information? Three reasons explain the success of fake news via social
media and why this platform is essential for the spreading of false reports (Allcott,
2016). To
begin, because of the way social media platforms are structured, there is a low
entry barrier into the industry which makes it easy to set up fake news websites
and monetize them through advertisements. Unlike real mass media outlets, they
don’t need to publish real information to maintain their reputation. To
continue, this low barrier of entry allows anyone, regardless of their
qualifications or lack of, to spread information which may get as many clicks
and reads as articles published by Fox New, CNN or the New York Times (Allcott,
2016). For
example, during the the 2016 presidential elections, people saw more fake news
stories published by ordinary people than real news stories published by
journalists (Silverman, 2016). What this means is that individuals
with no prior reputation, track record or fact checking can get viewing similar
or greater to professionals in the field. Finally, the algorithms who run these
social media accounts do not have the ability to gage the accuracy or the
objectivity of the articles it promotes. Overall, social media is integral to
the spreading of false stories because of its structure which allows for anyone
to have access to the platform, allowing them to spread information and having
no fact checking or algorithms capable of deciphering false information and stopping
its spreading (Allcott, 2016).

 

To
continue, there are two reasons which drive people to use social media to
spread fake news stories (Allcott, 2016). The first reason is financial;
individuals can make a large amount of money when their fake stories go viral.
This seems to be the motivation for a large majority of fake news writers. For
example, during the 2016 elections, teens living in Macedonia who had no stakes
in the election, were able to make thousands of dollars off of their fake election
news stories. Their fake news sites were active only during the pre-election
time and disintegrated once the election was over and they could no longer
profit off of fake coverage of the event. Furthermore, they spread stories
which were both pro-Clinton and pro-Trump. The second reason individuals decide
to create and spread news stories is for ideological reasons. Unlike the
teenagers in Macedonia who reported an equal amount of pro-Trump and
pro-Clinton articles, some sites were create to promote just one candidate. For
instance, a Romanian man started his site endingthefed.com in order to help the
Trump campaign. In this way, fake news websites are created with either
financial and/or ideological reasoning in mind (Allcott, 2016).

 

However,
whether fake news sites are created for economic and ideological reasons, they
inevitably cause significant negative consequences.  The three main consequences are the decline
in credibility of the media industry, the impact on public opinion as well as
the increased polarization between people with opposing views.  Surveys have shown that seventy-eight percent
of people believe that fake news has damaged the credibility of the media (Allcott,
2016).
Furthermore, the trust in the media is at a historical low at only 32% (Gallup
Inc, 2016).
These findings are alarming since journalism plays a fundamental role in our
democracy. The erosion of trust for this crucial institutions threatens
democracy (Hafiz,
2011).
What’s more, fake news has the ability to sway public opinion and again disrupt
democracy. It has this ability to sway public opinion because people are
creating their opinions based on false information (Levin, June 2017). An
example of this is the election of Trump in 2016. In the months leading up to
the election, the fake news circulating was heavily in favor of Trump over
Hilary which may have convinced certain people to eventually vote for him (Allcott,
2016). Finally,
polarization has also been on the rise because of fake news. For example,
during the tragic Las Vegas Shooting, both right-wing and left-wing writers
invented fake information regarding the political affiliation of the shooter in
order to vilify the opposing side. The right-wing fake news writers claimed that
the shooter was a trump-hater and part of the anti-fascist group Antifa. Conversely,
lift-wing writers attempted to paint the shooter as an ultra-right Trump
supporter. When this information is able to reach spread and reach many people,
it increases political polarization as one side increasingly sees the other as bad
(Levin,
October 2017).
To recapitulate, the three main consequences of fake news in our society are
the decline in credibility of the media, the impact on public opinion as well
as the increased polarization between people with opposing views

 

Google’s History

 

Google
Inc. was founded by Larry Page and Sergey Brin in 1998. The company aims to
organize the worlds information and make it accessible by providing the best
search results for each query. The founders meet at Stanford University in 1995
when Brin gave Page a campus tour. The following year, they began a partnership
working together on Page’s thesis statement for his masters and what would
eventually become Google. Their first version of the search engine was created
in their dorm room and was called Backrub. They later named their search engine
Google after the mathematical term googol which is 1 followed by 100 zeroes. By
August 1998, the duo had succeeded in collecting one million dollars from
various investors such as family, friends, and notably from Andy Bechtolsheim
cofounder of Sun Microsystems Inc. This sizable investment permitted the team
to upgrade to their first office located in Menlo Park California. There, they
focus on perfecting their search engine and the PageRank™ algorithm behind it. This
algorithm works by bringing the most popular sites to the top during a search,
and the least popular sites to the bottom. Furthermore, this algorithm uses the
the websites visited of millions of individuals to help determine which
websites have content of value (Sullivan, 2016) (“How
we started and where we are today”). It is also during this time that the young company
enacted it’s “Ten Things We Know to Be True” comprised of 10 statements
representing the company’s philosophy and values to guide them (“Ten things we know to be
true”). One
of the statements worth noting is that the company vows to make money but without
doing evil. By 1999, Google had 25
million in venture capital funding and was becoming increasingly popular. In
2004 it had its IPO which raised 1.66 billion for the company (“How we started and where we are
today”). Today,
Google is the most popular search engine and and has over three billion
searches per day (“Google
Search Statistics”).
While they are primarily known for their search engine, they have also created
hundreds of other products such as YouTube and Android. This tech giant
attracts talent from all over the world and is currently operating in over 50
different countries and employees over 60,000 people (“How we started and where we are today”). They have been
named the top company to work for in both 2007 and 2008. What makes Google a
desirable place to work at is its corporate structure. Employees are allotted a
lot of independence and have access to top executive managers. Their
independence and open communications policy makes employees feel that they
contribute and have a stake in the company (Frenz, 2017). Finally, Google underwent a
large re structuring when it became a subsidiary to Alphabet Inc in 2015.
Alphabet Inc now oversees all of Googles new initiatives such as Jigsaw and
Nest (Yarow,
2015).

 

Google and its
position on Fake News

 

At it’s
core, Google is a for profit organization and does not usually take stances on
timely issues and the way in which they make policy decisions inside the
organization is unknown. However, while the link between Google and the its
role in spreading fake news is clear, it took outside pressure for Google to
publicly recognize its role and to start taking action. More precisely, the
2016 election and the Los Vegas shooting in 2017, sparked public outcry as both
of these events were shaped and affected by fake information (Chaykowski,2017)( Wingfield,
2016).
When polled, 51% of people believe that social networks are the “most
responsible for the proliferation of fake news”. 72% also believe that these
social networking sites should block fake news on their websites (Lardieri, 2017). The public pressure
urged them to acknowledge their role which lead to Google representative Cong
Yu to issue the following statement in a blog post in April 2017: “With
thousands of new articles published online every minute of every day, the
amount of content confronting people online can be overwhelming. And
unfortunately, not all of it is factual or true, making it hard for people to
distinguish fact from fiction” (Hill, 2017).
Overall, Google’s statements on its role in the
proliferation of fake news steam from outside pressures to acknowledge the role
their company has in spreading false information to billions of users (Chaykowski, 2017)( Wingfield,
2016).

 

Examples of Press Releases and Conferences
on Fake News

 

As
previously discussed, the public played an important role in pushing for Google
to recognize its role in the proliferation of fake news and to address the
issue on it’s platform. Thus, educating the public on the topic is crucial to
the resistance of this fake news phenomenon. A conference was held at Harvard
University in February 2017 entitled “Combating Fake News: An Agenda for
Research and Action”. The conference tackles many topics surrounding fake news
such as the psychology behind it, it’s history and how it spreads via social
media. A panel discussion was posted online from the conference which has
almost 2000 views and educate even those who were not present at the
conference. (Pazzanese, 2017) (“Combating Fake News: An Agenda for Research and
Action, 2017”).

 

To
continue, a press release was issued on September 19th 2017 by the Canadian
Journalism Foundation who, along with CIVIX, will receive a grant from Google
Canada. Recognizing that Canada also has a fake news problem and ahead of the
Canadian elections, Google Canada through its philanthropic branch of the
company Google.org is providing a 500,000$ grant to help school aged children
identify fake news and understand the importance of journalism in a healthy
democracy. The Canadian Journalism Foundation promotes excellence in journalism
and through various initiatives teaches academics, students and journalists
about the role of media in society and how it is evolving through the digital
era. CIVIX is a register charity which works to educate school aged Canadians
about how to engage in democracy as Canadian citizens. Their vision is to have
a Canadian democracy inclusive of young people who are knowledgeable on the
topic and able to engage and participate. CIVIX is responsible for the
successfully Student Vote program which has reached 7,5 000 Canadian schools
and 98% of Canadian school boards. Both CIVIX and the Canadian Journalism
Foundation recognize the crucial role of journalism in our democracy and stress
it’s importance. Funded by the Google.org grant, they will develop and
implement a new program called NewsWise. This program will emphasize the
importance of factual information in a democracy and increase news literacy in
the age of fake news. The program aims reach 1.5 million kids aged to 9 to 19
across Canada (Nanji,
2017) (Canadian Journalism Foundation, 2017).

 

Google’s
Strategy

 

So far, Google’s
strategy for solving fake news comes in two parts: Project Owl and a Fact
Checking tool. Project-Owl and the Fact Checking tool targets all people who
use their search engine (Nanji,
2017). Furthermore,
Google uses the media effectively as well as it’s personal blog in order to
communicate about it’s strategy. Google’s first strategy to fight fake news is “Project
Owl”, which was released to the press on April 25th 2017 (Hern, 2017) (Tomchak, 2017).
Overall,
this strategy employs two tactics to burry false information so that it no
longer features at the top of search results. The first tactic is to improve
search rankings. The algorithm is responsible for ranking stories and uses feedback
from users to determine what should appear as the top search but does not have
the ability to gage the accuracy of the articles it promotes. Fake news is able
to tamper with this and bring fake news stories to the top as it did during the
Las Vegas shooting were the top search results wrongly identified the perpetrator
of the mass shooting. The updated algorithm would work to bring more authoritative
content and sites to the top of the search and and bring to the bottom inaccurate
content and sites to the bottom. The second tactic is to add a feature which
would allow users to give feedback by flagging content that appears in Google
Autocomplete feature and Featured Snippets. Flagging content as inappropriate
or inaccurate would allow Google to alter its search results (Tomchak, 2017) (Hern, 2017). Google’s second
strategy, anew Fact Checking tool, was announced on April 7th 2017 on
Google’s blog. This Fact Checking tool will be available globally and display a
fact checking tag next articles which have been fact checked by an third party
organization. This will combat fake news by identifying sources which are more
authoritative and reliable (Kosslyn,
2017).

 

Criticism of Google
Strategy:

 

Finally,
the strategies adopted so far by Google are insufficient. Moreover, the company
says they will continue to put effort towards solving the problem, but so far
there have just been words and no action (Chaykowski, 2017). There are many reasons why the
two strategies are insufficient at address the fake news problem. While Google
did attempt to target the root of the problem with it’s new Project Owl, they
were ultimately unsuccessful in burrying false information so that it would no
longer features at the top of search results. In October 2017, fake new sites
were at the top of Google queries regarding the Las Vegas massacre. For many
hours, the top searches lead to inaccurate information about the shooting thus
proving that Project Owl has not accomplished its intentions. Google responded
to the incident by saying: “This should not have appeared for any queries, and
we’ll continue to make algorithmic improvements to prevent this from happening
in the future” (Chaykowski,
2017). Despite this, there has been no concrete steps reported
since this statement. Next, the FactCheck service is difficult to evaluate as
Google has remained private about the exact workings of this tool and whether it
has been a success or failure. Furthermore, while Google has come out with a
few solutions to tackle the problem, there are many more which could be implemented.
For instance, Google said last year that it would ban it’s GoogleAds on fake
websites. This
would decrease the incentive to start this type of site because it would be impossible
to gain financially from this type of venture. However, since this announcement
no legitimate plans have been made to put this policy into practice (Statt, 2016). On the other hand, Google
continues to state it’s enthusiasm and effort to fixing the problem: “We are
super energized by this, I have to say, super energized to fix these problems
(…) People at Google came out of the woodworks offering to help us with this.
People felt really passionate about helping. And so it was easy to staff a
really strong team who worked hard. They cared deeply about the kind of
situations being described and are very passionate about fixing it”( Sullivan, 2017). Google needs to
remember that their words must be supported by actions if they want to indeed
eliminate this issue. The company currently holds sixty-five percent of the
market share for search engines and should have a responsibility to the
billions on individuals who use their product (Sterling, 2015). Their platform filters and distorts
the information we digest about the world and thus have a large impact on the way
we end up viewing things. If Google wishes to live by it’s philosophy and not
“do evil”, it should take action against fake news instead of just talking
about it (“Ten
things we know to be true”).

 

Conclusion

 

In
conclusion, this essay further examined the role of Google in contributing to
the fake news issue but also it’s attempt, through various initiatives, to
solve it. The first section “Real Information on the Fake News Issue” conveyed
information on the issue of fake news such as it’s history, how it
spreads via social media, the reason people purposely spread fake information,
and its consequences. The second section “Google’s History” talked about the
company’s history, purpose and structure. The third section “Google and its
position on Fake News”, revealed how Google came to take a stance on fake news.
The fourth section “Examples of Press Releases and Conferences on Fake News” spoke
of the Harvard conference and press release of Google’s grant. The fifth
section, “Google’s Strategy”, outlined the two strategies adopted
by Google as well as it’s target audience and how it used the media to inform
about it’s strategies. Finally, in the section “Criticism of Google Strategy”, a
critique of Google’s strategy was given which concluded that so far Google’s
initiatives have been insufficient and more effort is needed by the company to properly
combat fake news.

 

 

 

 

Work Cited:

 

 

Allcott, Hunt, and Matthew Gentzkow. “Social Media and
Fake News in the 2016 Election.” Journal of Economic Perspectives ,
vol. 31, ser. 2, 2017, pp. 211–236. 2.

 

Canadian
Journalism Foundation, “Media Advisory – With grant from Google Canada,
Canadian Journalism Foundation and CIVIX partner to develop news literacy
program NewsWise.” Media Advisory – With
grant from Google Canada, Canadian Journalism Foundation and CIVIX partner to, www.newswire.ca/news-releases/media-advisory—with-grant-from-google-canada-canadian-journalism-foundation-and-civix-partner-to-develop-news-literacy-program-newswise-645571773.html.

 

Chaykowski,
Kathleen. “Facebook And Google Still Have A ‘Fake News’ Problem, Las Vegas
Shooting Reveals.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 3
Oct. 2017, www.forbes.com/sites/kathleenchaykowski/2017/10/02/facebook-and-google-still-have-a-fake-news-problem-las-vegas-shooting-reveals/#559f6bf17138.

 

“Combating
Fake News: An Agenda for Research and Action” in Journalistic Practice, Media
Business, News Business & Practice, Papers, Research, Technology.
“Combating Fake News: An Agenda for Research and Action.” Shorenstein Center, 19 June 2017,
shorensteincenter.org/combating-fake-news-agenda-for-research/.

 

Flood, Alison. “Fake news is ‘very real’ word of the
year for 2017.” The
Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 1 Nov. 2017, www.theguardian.com/books/2017/nov/02/fake-news-is-very-real-word-of-the-year-for-2017.

 

Frenz,
Roslyn, “Google’s Organizational Structure.” Bizfluent,
2017. bizfluent.com/about-6692920-google-s-organizational-structure.html.

 

Gallup Inc. “Americans’ Trust in Mass Media Sinks to
New Low.” Gallup.com, 14
Sept. 2016,
news.gallup.com/poll/195542/americans-trust-mass-media-sinks-new-low.aspx.

 

“Google
Search Statistics.” Google Search
Statistics – Internet Live Stats, www.internetlivestats.com/google-search-statistics/.

 

Hafiz,
Muhammad. “The Role of Media in a Democracy.” CEKU, 2011.
www.ukeconline.com/CEK

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