In the four years that Google Now has been in existence, it has become a useful tool to many – but a battery hogging burden to others. Embraced as a time saving contextual aware assistant by those that have access to all the features, and removed from existing by many others. Google are looking to make the feed much more useful, the new update makes news much more prominent.
Even though Google stopped calling its contextual left of home screen page Google Now back in September the name is still synonymous with the service. The new update to the ‘Google App’ behind the service is putting much more emphasis on news. Implementing a dedicated stream of news called “Feed” – aiming to surface news that Google thinks you will be interested in a lot more often.
Google have already been doing this for a quite a while in an aim to keep you informed about the things you love. However in the above screen shot from The Verge you will see Google are now splitting the ‘Now’ page in half. A right hand column for all the usual “upcoming” contextual information, and a left column for just news.
News in the news
This in itself isn’t a massive issue, Google has been notifying users of the occasional news story for a long while. However considering the recent chaos surrounding Facebook and fake news this could be a bold move from Google.
It is not just Facebook that has a ‘fake news’ problem, by surfacing any news stories Google is now seen a some kind of gate keeper to the internet. Receiving criticism this week for a highlighting a fake news story at the top of a search page for Aliens. Sure enough The Verge found more stories that are labelled “Top Stories” when searching for equally sudo topics such as the Loch Ness Monster.
Google has become more than just a search engine, it is quite often the front page of the internet – but should they be held responsible for a fake news story that surfaces on its pages? Clearly it has some responsibility for filtering pages that contain illegal acts or those of a shocking nature. With that said Google and equally Facebook could be held accountable for what is displayed.
The issues comes when the results are filtered and some kind of editorial decision is made. Whether that be by a human or by an algorithm, a choice is made on which stories to show and how to show them. Labelling a news story a “Top Story” brings with it some kind of stamp of approval – arguably a great deal more than simply showing what people are talking about a la Facebook trending topics.
What IS fake news?
Without a doubt this issue is a massive minefield without a simple solution. How exactly do you determine what is intentionally fake and misleading, what is innocent in nature, and which ‘news’ is simply not the view point you personally agree with? Google is already trying to answer just that.
The internet is stuffed with garbage. Anti-vaccination websites make the front page of Google, and fact-free “news” stories spread like wildfire. – Hal Hodson, New Scientist
Attempting to re-order Google searches to display the truth is not a new idea for the teams at Google. In fact in 2015 Google published research papers containing complex mathematics to attempt just that. Already proposing to shift the current model of Page Rank based on number of links, to one based on reliability based on verifiable facts.
Google currently ranks on the “wisdom of crowds” counting incoming links, meaning even links to articles that are ‘debunking’ stories are adding towards its credibility. Which is all very creditable and noble of Google, but they don’t claim to tell the truth, they simply rank pages in order of how popular they are and semi known SEO features.
This is the state of truth on the internet in 2016, now that it is as easy for a Macedonian teenager to create a website as it is for The New York Times, and now that the information most likely to find a large audience is that which is most alarming, not most correct. – Jessi Hempel, backchannel.com
Questions perhaps need to be asked of the reader as well as the news avenue. That’s certainly the belief of top myth busting website Snopes, who believe fake news is not the problem, it is the failing media. A website that makes their living from fact checking false news stories, an issue that has seen the website traffic grow in the last year to 13.6 million unique visitors a month.
The Tabloid press and you
In the UK we are long used to sensationalist journalism in order to sell newspapers. News outlets such as the News Of The World (now closed) and The Daily Star made their sole income on half truths, cloudy facts and dirty tactics. Perhaps boosting the bull shit detector in all of us – but made up ‘news’ is another beast entirely.
We live in a world of Memes, arguable declining general intelligence and massive social media use. Fake news has existed for years, once spread by word of mouth tales, then by printing press pamphlets, gaining traction post World Wars and is now being spread to millions by a few mouse clicks. This is not a new phenomena, in actual fact we now have the best fact checker at our disposable – Google.
Argue all you like about fake news being an epidemic and risking lives – but it takes less time than ever to check what you’re reading. Just perhaps the user has the responsibility for what they choose believe.