4 out of every 10 Americans consume their news online.
Search engines such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo process nearly 6 billion searches per day.
Of those 6 billion searches, about 0.25% produce problematic results (equating to over one million a day).
With web content increasingly falling into the above mentioned categories, major online platforms like Facebook and Google are taking action to eliminate fake news and keep your search results filled with high quality, relevant, up-to-date, and factual information.
These fake news stories and headlines have begun to rapidly take over Facebook newsfeeds and Google search results two places many internet users have gone to and relied on in the past for their news and information. Facebook and Google have become two of the largest and most popular sites on the internet with billions of visitors and active users each day. If these two major platforms are struggling with fake news and information overload then it is likely other areas of the internet are dealing with similar issues. And since the internet has become nearly everyone’s go-to source for information, this is certainly a problem that cannot be ignored.
On the same theme as fake news, increasing numbers of fake online profiles, or “catfishes”, have also started to take the internet by storm. These profiles might include spam accounts, robots, or profiles with made up information including age and gender. Profiles with fake or misleading information can negatively affect user experience as well as hinder online safety.
The first question many individuals ask is how these fake news sites and articles are gaining so much traction and visibility. While this question is quite complicated, the simple answer is that the content blends in, appearing alongside many legitimate news pieces and articles as we scroll through social media feeds and web searches. Additionally, tricks like clickbait titles and exaggerated descriptions are causing online users to share, like, and comment on these articles without reading them all the way through or taking the time to see if they are coming from validated sources. When other users see such high numbers for shares, likes, comments, and views, they tend to believe the article must be worth viewing, reading, and sharing themselves. This creates a never ending cycle and allows these fake news sites to rank high in search results.
Producers of fake content do so for a variety of reasons. Mainly because it has continued to have such a great effect. High view counts and rankings lead to higher ad revenue and users visiting their website, leading to a greater potential for people to buy their products and view other content on their sites.
Because of these benefits found within the current system, fake news will not go away until those who create it no longer see a desired, profitable outcome.
Google is constantly working to upgrade and update its algorithms to create the best search experience for its users. One of their latest updates, “Project Owl”, has specifically targeted fake news and inappropriate search suggestions with a three-pronged approach:
Improved search suggestions with a new feedback form Google suggests popular and high searched topics with its “Autocomplete” function. If you begin typing in a word or phrase to the search bar, Google will automatically provide a few options to complete your search based on the way other users have searched similar topics in the past. With the Owl update, Google now allows users to report on any Autocomplete search prediction to provide important feedback to help make necessary algorithm changes, removing search suggestions considered hateful, violent, sexually explicit, or otherwise false or misleading.
Example of Google “Autocomplete” search suggestion
New feedback form for “Featured Snippets” Another Google component that has come under fire recently is “Featured Snippets”. “Featured Snippets” are high ranking search results highlighted by Google and featured at the top of the page. These snippets are what new technology such as Google Assistant and Google home use in response to a user generated question as they are meant to provide the best and most accurate information. Similar to the “Autocomplete” feedback form, Google has also implemented a new feedback form for “Featured Snippets”, allowing users to let Google know if the information provided was helpful, harmful, misleading, or completely inaccurate. Users also have the option to leave comments or suggestions to further improve Google’s efforts in optimizing search.
Example of a “Featured Snippet” in Google search results
Algorithm updates to better emphasize and promote authoritative content while demoting low-quality content including content that is offensive or misleading With a new focus and emphasis on authoritative content, Google is working to improve not only snippets and featured content, but all content for all results. While the specifics of algorithm changes will not be released, ranking for high quality, authoritative content is on the up and up.
Other companies and platforms are working alongside Google to bring an end to fake news and fake content online.
Facebook has begun to buckle down, banning fake news sites from its ad network. New software is also being developed to identify fake online profiles with made up information. This new software tool will be able to improve internet safety for younger users as well as help companies combat fake reviews attacking their business.
The internet is a free space for groups and individuals to express themselves, promote their brands, share information, and engage with other online users from all across the globe. However, there are always exceptions and needs for improvement to the system.
With so much information available online being created everyday, there is no perfect formula, but awareness and small steps in the right direction will go a long way.