How Google’s Approach to Combating Fake News Could Affect Real Publishers

How will Google alter their algorithm to combat fake news in the future, and how will it affect the rest of us? 

I’m going to assume that you’re not one of those news sites that published fake news to garner clicks and ad revenue during the election.

But if you were, you probably made a heck of a lot of dough in ad revenue over the last year by publishing misleading headlines and legitimately fake and made-up news stories for the sake of a buck. Some have gone so far as to say this fake news was so influential, that it was one of the major reasons why president-elect Donald Trump won the race. Fake news about every candidate, but also including Trump, was rampant.

In the wake of the election, the leaders of search and social, Google and Facebook, have recently adjusted their inner tinkerings to reduce the ability for these types of sites to make money. Facebook has dismissed them from advertising, while Google is taking these steps and more.

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Ian Bowden on Search Engine Watch made a short list of the ways he thinks Google can combat fake news, including:

  1. Manually reviewing websites
  2. Algorithmically demoting fake news
  3. Removing incentives to create fake news
  4. Signaling when content has been fact-checked
  5. Funding fact-checking organizations

Unless you’re an established publisher that gets a fundamental pass in the Google bots, some of these methods could affect you even if you’re doing all the right things. For example, we already know Google manually reviews websites, and that it’s not all about bots. But the “algorithmically demoting fake news” portion means there may be more major changes that could inadvertently affect you if you publish news.

That’s where #4 comes in, which would be signaling when content has been fact-checked, which seems like a plausible method and might change the way we write content. Google could easily put together a set of guidelines telling us how to note sources in our articles.

Bowden says, “Google has denied that TrustRank exists, but perhaps we’ll see the introduction of a “TruthRank.” There will be a series of “truth beacons,” in the same way the TrustRank patent outlines. A score could be appended based on the number of citations against truth-checking services.”

However in all likeliness, Google is looking on a more broad scale. You don’t publish content about boating and suddenly decide to promote fake news one day. I think the analysis will come at a broad domain level, as in: you’re either a fake news site or you’re not.

As mentioned by Bowden, “Google does have the power to determine who does and does not appear in their various listings. To appear in Google News, publishers must meet Google’s guidelines, then apply for inclusion and submit to a manual review.” But that only applies to publishers looking for inclusion in Google News and as you may already know, it’s not an easy process. So I doubt any fake sites ever slipped through there. However, the “news” at the top of Google doesn’t just come from Google News, which is why Google was criticized recently for showing fake news. Rumor is that they may change it to “top stories” to avoid this confusion in the future.

See now, if I were a fake news site, I could have labeled this post, “Google Includes Fake News Stories in Google News.” And since so many people on the web only read the headline, that’s all it would take for me as a fake news producer to make a buck on clicks. The digital age comes with lots of good, but plenty of bad eggs too.

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