Google built its empire around keywords and made much of its ability to sort through gazillions of files without any boring old human editors, but it's now discovering the importance of those pesky things called facts.
The problem, as seen in the recent election campaign, is that just about anybody can write just about anything and, if it contains the right keywords in the right structure, earn a place in Google's search results and even in its Google News feed.
Embarrassed by the sheer tonnage of baloney in its feed, Google has rediscovered fact-checking and is now rolling out a Fact Check tag in Google News search results.
"When you conduct a search on Google that returns an authoritative result containing fact checks for one or more public claims, you will see that information clearly on the search results page," said Cong Yu, a Google research scientist and Justin Kosslyn, product manager at Jigsaw. "The snippet will display information on the claim, who made the claim, and the fact check of that particular claim."
Not every story will be fact-checked, and there may even be cases where there are what might be called "alternative facts" -- different stories reporting on a given topic or event from different points of view.
"There may be search result pages where different publishers checked the same claim and reached different conclusions. These fact checks are not Google’s and are presented so people can make more informed judgements," Yu and Kosslyn said in a joint blog posting.
Jigsaw helped Google develop a fact-check tagging system. More than 115 organizations participated.
Facts and "true facts"
One thing that often sets off consumers who are on the prowl for what they consider "biased" news is a public statement by, say, a political figure that cites supposed facts that may or may not be correct.
News organizations seldom have the time or resources to fact-check every statement that comes out of a politician's mouth but often consider they have done their job, at least for the moment, if they quote the statement accurately and attribute it to the person who made it.
For example, a news report might say: "The governor said that he had never met with the convicted contractor." Whether the governor is being truthful may not be determined until later, leaving the careful reader to hold their judgment in abeyance pending further investigations.
Google's new system enables publishers to fill out a form that basically says where they got and verified the information. This won't tell us whether the governor was lying, but it will at least make it possible to know that he made the statement in question. Sometimes that's as good as it gets.