April 10, 2018 | by Alexian Chiavegato

The Fake News Battle Rages on — and Google Aims to Win

In some corners of our digital world, news has become a matter of opinion, built with alternative facts and shadowy theories, and bounded by political loyalties. Media consumers are more aware of fake news than ever before, yet those who rely on the internet and social media for their daily updates may find it hard to avoid.

Now Google has announced a many-pronged, multimillion-dollar strategy for supporting trustworthy journalism and protecting users from false reporting and opinion disguised as news. The new Google News Initiative is intended to “elevate accurate, quality content and stem the flow of misinformation and disinformation.” The collaborative program promises to elevate the quality of the entire ecosystem for users, publishers, and advertisers alike.

Reflecting Google’s efforts to “help journalism thrive in the digital age,” Chief Business Office Philipp Schindler writes, the Google News Initiative is meant to “bring together everything we do in collaboration with the industry—across products, partnerships, and programs—to help build a stronger future for news.” In addition to elevating and strengthening “quality journalism,” the program will help news organizations develop new, growth-oriented business models and introduce more forward-looking, innovative technology.

The initiative is backed by the promise of a $300 million expenditure over the next three years, funding major programs such as the Disinfo Lab and MediaWise. Disinfo Lab is a joint project with First Draft of the Shorenstein Center at Harvard Kennedy School of Media, Politics and Public Policy. At Disinfo Lab, media organizations will monitor and work against fake news, with a focus on news coverage of elections around the world. MediaWise, in partnership with the Poynter Institute, Stanford University, will help young U.S. news consumers improve their “digital literacy,” teaching them to “distinguish fact from fiction online,” according to Schindler.

Another user-focused project may have the greatest direct impact on users. Subscribe with Google will allow users to subscribe to multiple news channels quickly and easily—and when subscribers search for news stories, their preferred publications will be highlighted in the search results. The idea is to steer readers away from deliberate misinformation and toward legitimate journalism, all the while helping publishers engage with larger audiences.

Google also plans to leverage its accelerated mobile pages (AMP) technology with AMP Stories (now in beta release), which offers users a “mobile-focused format for delivering news and information as visually rich, tap-through stories.”

Naturally Google Search will play an important role in the Google News Initiative. As big stories break, “bad actors are publishing content on forums and social media with the intent to mislead and capture people’s attention as they rush to find trusted information online,” Google VP of News Richard Gingras writes. To fight back, search algorithms will now give more weight to “authoritative results over factors like freshness or relevancy,” lessening the visibility of fake news. Currently available only in the U.S., this system will be launched globally later this year. The fast page loads enabled by Google AMP can only benefit this approach.

The goals Google has announced are testimony to its determination to keep moving forward, ultimately creating a higher-quality ecosystem for online news publishers and consumers. At the foundation of it all, Google wants users to stay informed through Google Search—so it must be fast, easy to use, and trustworthy. We can be certain that more enhancements will follow, and the future line between search and news will become increasingly blurred.