If you do a Google search these days, chances are that you will find a direct answer to your query. For example, if you type in a name to the search bar, the first thing you will see is a box with a picture of the person you searched, along with some biographical data. These short responses are called Google Featured Snippets. They usually help bring the answer you seek to you more quickly.
However, recent reports suggest that Google Snippets cannot distinguish between what is real and what is fake. A report on The Outline described the experience of Peter Shulman, a professor at the Case Western University in Ohio. One day, he was holding a lecture on the reemergence of the Ku Klux Klan (a white supremacist group in the US). A student then asked him: was President Warren G. Harding a member of the KKK?
That was an odd question. A quick Google search should have provided some clarity on the subject. However, the first thing the professor saw when the Googled “presidents in the Klan” was a list of US presidents in the KKK. This result came from an obviously fake website.
This appears to be a common occurrence. Google Featured Snippets often tries to provide a direct answer to a question. However, the algorithm behind the quick answers has no way of determining the veracity of news sources. Google works hard to combat fake news. Is it plausible that their own feature undermines their efforts?
When approached for comment, a Google spokesperson told Business Insider:
“Featured Snippets in search provide an automatic and algorithmic match to a given search query, and the content comes from third party sites. Unfortunately, there are instances when we feature a site with inappropriate or misleading content. When we are alerted to a Featured Snippet that violates our policies, we work quickly to remove them, which we have done in this instance. We apologize for any offense this may have caused”.
This is quite disturbing. We have seen just how dangerous fake news can be. Could it be possible, therefore, that Google is unknowingly aiding the spread of fake news?