Google's search algorithm has been changed over the last year to increasingly reward search results based on how likely you are to click on them, multiple sources tell Business Insider.

As a result, fake news now often outranks accurate reports on higher quality websites.

The problem is so acute that Google's autocomplete suggestions now actually predict that you are searching for fake news even when you might not be, as Business Insider noted on December 5.

There is a common misconceptionthat the proliferation of fake news is all Facebook's fault. Although Facebook does have a fake news problem, Google's ranking algorithm does not take cues from social shares, likes, or comments when it is determining which result is the most relevant, search experts tell Business Insider. The changes at Google took place separately, experts say, to the fake news problem occurring on Facebook.

The changes to the algorithm now move links up Google's search results page if Google detects that more people are clicking on them, search experts tell Business Insider.

Joost De Valk, founder of Yoast, a search consultancy that has worked for The Guardian, told Business Insider: "All SEOs [search engine optimisation experts] agree that they include relative click-through rate (CTR) from the search results in their ranking patterns. For a given 10 results page, they would expect a certain CTR for position five, for instance. If you get more clicks than they’d expect, thus a higher CTR, they’ll usually give you a higher ranking and see if you still outperform the other ones," 

Search marketing consultant Rishi Lakhani said: "Though Google doesn't like to admit it, it does use CTR (click through rate) as a factor. Various tests I and my contemporaries have run indicate that. The hotter the subject line the better the clicks, right?"

It is well known that Google includes user-behaviour signals to evaluate its ranking algorithms. Google has an obvious interest in whether users like its search results. Its ranking engineers look at live traffic frequently to experiment with different algorithms. User behavior signals have the added advantage of being difficult to model, or reproduce, by unscrupulous web publishers who want to game the algorithm. 

The unfortunate side effect is that user-behaviour signals also reward fake news. Previously, Google's ranking relied more heavily on how authoritative a page is, and how authoritative the incoming links to that page are. If a page at Oxford University links to an article published by Harvard, Google would rank that information highly in its display of search results.

Now, the ranking of a page can also be boosted by how often it's clicked on even if it does not have incoming links from authoritative sources, according to Larry Kim, founder and chief technology officer of WordStream, a search marketing consultancy.

The result of all this is that "user engagement" has become a valuable currency in the world of fake news. And people who believe in conspiracy theories — the kind of person who spends hours searching for "proof" that Hillary Clinton is a child abuser, for instance — are likely to be highly engaged with the fake content they are clicking on.

Thus even months after a popular fake news story has been proven to be fake, it will still rank higher than the most relevant result showing that it's false, if a large enough volume of people are clicking on it and continuing to send engagement signals back to Google's algorithm.

Here some examples.

President Obama has never signed an order banning the US national anthem, and yet ...

Obama_signs_a_nationwide_order_ _Google_Search

And Hillary Clinton has never sold weapons to ISIS, but ...

Hillary_Clinton_sold_weapons_to_ISIS_ _Google_Search

De Valk says: "I think the reason fake news ranks is the same reason why it shows up in Google’s autocomplete: they’ve been taking more and more user signals into their algorithm. If something resonates with users, it’s more likely to get clicks. If you’re the number three result for a query, but you’re getting the most clicks, Google is quick to promote you to #1 ... Nothing in their algorithm checks facts."

Google never explains in full how its algorithm works but a spokesperson for the company said:

"When someone conducts a search, they want an answer, not trillions of webpages to scroll through. Algorithms are computer programs that look for clues to give you back exactly what you want. Depending on the query, there are thousands, if not millions, of web pages with helpful information. These algorithms are the computer processes and formulas that take your questions and turn them into answers. Today Google’s algorithms rely on more than 200 unique signals or 'clues' that make it possible to show what you might really be looking for and surface the best answers the web can offer."

Larry Kim, founder and chief technology officer of WordStream, a search marketing consultancy, tracks the changes to October 2015, when Google added a machine-learning program called "RankBrain" to the list of variables that control its central search algorithm. It deployed the system to all search results in June of this year.

Is this machine learning's fault? "I’m certain of this," Kim said. "This is the only thing that changed in the algorithm over the last year."

Rankbrain is now the third most-important variable in Google's search algorithm, according to Greg Corrado, a senior research scientist at Google.

The change was intended to help Google make more intelligent guesses about the 15% of new daily search queries that Google has never encountered before. RankBrain considers previous human behaviour, such as the historical popularity of similar searches, in its attempt to get the right answer.

Kim told us: "The reason why they did this was not to create fake news. They created this because links can be vulnerable, links can be gamed. In fact it is so valuable to have these number one listings for commercial listings that there’s a lot of link fraud. User-engagement [looking at how popular a search result is] sees through attempts to inflate the value of content." 

Kim's opinion is disputed by his peers. Lakhani doubts that RankBrain is the sole cause of the proliferation of fake news. "It's been tested on and off for a while," he says.

De Valk is not so sure either. "I'm not sure it's related to that. It might be, but I'm not sure. Google does hundreds of updates every year," he told Business Insider.

Naturally, the type of content that is more likely to get clicked on is also more likely to get shared, commented on, and liked on Facebook. And Facebook and Google both reward engagement (or popularity, which gives off similar signals). That pushes an item higher on the newsfeed in Facebook's case, and on the search results page in Google's case. The performance of fake news on Google is correlated to its performance on Facebook because they both deal in the same currency — user engagement. So what does well on Facebook often does well on Google. 

This is correlation, not causation.

But the fact that the two of them are occurring at the same time exacerbates the high-level presence of fake news generally. Google and Facebook dominate the amount of time people spend online and inside apps.

The changes at Google help explain why fake news has suddenly gone from circulating in a tiny corner of the internet to something that outperforms real newsinfluences Google's predictive search, and has real world consequences — such as the Comet Ping Pong shooting, done by a man who was convinced from his internet searches that Clinton was using the restaurant as a front for a child abuse ring. Nearly 50% of Trump voters believe the same thing, according to research by Public Policy Polling.

Author:  Hannah Roberts

Source:  http://www.businessinsider.com/

Categorized in Search Engine

Last week, Google pledged to fight “fake news” in its search results yet offered up no solutions to the problem. That’s likely because Google has no easy fix.

Google especially came under fire after it listed a site with incorrect “final” US presidential election counts as the top listing for searches such as “final votes” or “final election count.” Here’s an example of that, spotted by Kara Eccelston, on November 13:

final election count

Media outlets soon picked up on this. In response, Google said that it would block advertising to sites that mispresent themselves and that it would work to fix the problem with its actual search results. Google CEO Sundar Pichai told the BBC this:

This is very important to us. At Google, we’ve always cared about bringing the most relevant and accurate results to users. And that’s where almost all of our work goes, at the end of the day. When I look at, it’s important to remember we get billions of queries every day. There have been a couple of instances where it’s been pointed out, and we clearly did not get it right. And so it’s a learning moment for us, and we will definitely work to fix it. Just in the last two days we announced that we will remove advertising from anything we identify as fake news.

And yet, that site remains in the first page of results today for a search on “final election results,” as you can see below:

final election

True, it’s not the first thing on the page, as was the case last week. It’s also moved to the second page of results for searches on “final vote” or “final election count.” But there’s little to prevent it or similar mistaken stories from repeating what caused all the criticism in the first place.

How the ‘In the news’ section changed to include fake news

The first problem is that just over two years ago — back in October 2014 — Google greatly expanded what it allowed to appear within its “In the news” section of its search results, which often appears at the top of the page for news-related searches. Here’s an example:

in the news

Before the change, only content from news sites that had been vetted by human beings and admitted into Google News would appear. After the change, Google said it was pretty much anything goes for that box. It would put what it thought was “the best possible answer,” whatever the source, it said.

As a result, last week, “the best possible answer” that appeared in that box was a little-known blog post with made-up election figures. And that’s something that could easily happen again, as Google has announced no change to what’s admitted into the “In the news” section.

Search Engine Land has specifically asked Google twice if it plans changes here — on November 15 and again on November 17. It’s not responded either time. My guess is that it’s considering some changes but hasn’t implemented them. Until it does, the situation of fake news there could easily repeat.

By the way, as I was writing this, Alexei Oreskovic from from Business Insider pinged me about a story I hadn’t seen yet, that Google, according to an unnamed source, might remove the “In the news” section and replace it with a “Top Stories” section. That won’t solve anything, however, unless it also involves only using vetted sources. It’s not clear that change will happen.

The difficulty in censoring web search

My guess is that Google will return to having only vetted sites appear in the “In the news” box. If so, that will not solve the problem of fake news still appearing in its regular search results, which are drawn from across the web.

The difficulty here is that Google has a real challenge in automatically assessing whether something is actually true or not. As smart as Google is, it can still be very dumb on complex and nuanced topics. It can also be misled by those who accidentally or deliberately post material that seems to be factual in nature but is not.

I mean, even US President-Elect Donald Trump has admitted that US President Barack Obama was born in the United States, yet the first listing in Google for a search on “obama born in kenya” is a YouTube-hosted video saying Obama “admits” he was born in Kenya:

obama born in kenya

Ask Google who the “King of the United States” is, and it answers Barack Obama:

king of the united states

Ironically, that “answer” comes from our Search Engine Land site, because we wrote back in 2014 how absurd it was that Google was reporting this fact based on a Breitbart article. Our debunking got turned into being the source of this “fact.”

Search for “barack obama pledge of allegiance,” and the first article tells you — incorrectly — that Obama signed an executive order banning the pledge in schools:

barack obama

That’s actually a satirical piece, from a site profiled last week by The Washington Post. However, unlike The Onion — a popular satire site — this one presents itself as “ABC News,” which could easily be confused with the well-known and real ABC News service. It also begins some stories as if they are from the AP — the well-known Associated Press.

The listing in the second box in the screen shot above shows a site that took this fake news at face value, further polluting Google’s search results.

The listing in the third box above may be playing a bait-and-switch game. It gives Google a title and description supporting the fake news:

title description fake news

However, when someone visits the page itself — which carries ads from Google — it then debunks the claim:

Obama Signs Executive Order Banning Pledge of Allegiance in US Schools

As for dedicated debunking sites like FactCheck.org or Snopes, they do appear in the results, but only after the false claim, and they are somewhat overwhelmed by the other pages supporting the fake news.

No quick solution; maybe no solution at all

In short, web search results are hard to police for fact checking. Google could perhaps try to classify searches that suddenly rise in popularity and which seem related to fake news, then give a boost to fact-checking sites in response.

Google could also try to penalize sites that it determines are purposely trying to mislead people, but that can get tricky fast. Do you penalize a site like InfoWars from Alex Jones, who peddles a conspiracy theory about the Sandy Hook shootings? If you do, if he interviews US President-Elect Donald Trump, as may well happen, do you lift the penalty or ban just for that?

There’s no easy answer for Google here. Cutting off ad revenues won’t have an impact on some sites that don’t carry ads or carry those from others.

Surely there are some things the company can and should try, which might have an impact with search results. Cleaning up news results, which often get prominence, is the fastest solution. But cleaning up the web search results will remain messy.

Author:  Danny Sullivan

Source:  http://marketingland.com/

Categorized in News & Politics

Facebook’s fake news frenzy continued as the company came under scrutiny for its debated influence on the U.S. election, LinkedIn was blocked in Russia and a person was treated with CRISPR technology for the first time. Also, the human species has about 1,000 years left according to Stephen Hawking. But do we deserve survival? The existence of Coca-Cola’s selfie bottle points toward no.

1. Mark Zuckerberg published a response to accusations that fake news on Facebook influenced the outcome of the U.S. election. The Facebook CEO claims that at least 99 percent of news content on Facebook was “authentic.” However, many still argue that Facebook has locked users inside of an echo chamber. 

2. Apple and U.S. auto sales could suffer a setback if President-elect Donald Trump takes action on his pre-election comments about global trade. Back in September, Trump said he would impose a 45 percent tariff on imports from China. And now the country is threatening to squeeze iPhone sales if a trade war comes to be. 

MacBook Pro

3. A full four years after the last major upgrade, the new MacBook Pro is finally here. It’s slimmer and lighter than its predecessor, has a new Touch Bar feature and a larger TrackPad.

4. Chinese scientists injected a human being with cells genetically edited using CRISPR-Cas9technology. This is the first time CRISPR has been used on a fully formed adult human, and scientists are hoping that this will help their patient fend off a deadly type of lung cancer.

snapbot

5. Snap Inc. appears to be moving forward in its plans to go public early next year. The company reportedly filed confidentially for its massive IPO. Snap is already targeting as much as $1 billion in revenue for 2017. It has 150 million daily active users and has rapidly become one of the most enticing new advertising platforms for marketers. Snapchat also continued selling its Spectacles glasses to the public in the most millennial way possible — through pop-up vending machines across California and in Oklahoma. But they didn’t give them away to techies. 

6. Microsoft and the Linux community often felt like they were at war with each other in the past. But this week, Microsoft, one of the biggest open-source contributors, joined the Linux Foundation as a high-paying Platinum member.

7. Shareholders approved Tesla’s acquisition of SolarCity in an important hurdle for the deal. Tesla expects the transaction to close in the coming days. Overall, the acquisition is pushed forward by Elon Musk’s vision of a unified sustainable energy track.

Jason Robins of DraftKings

8. It was confirmed that fantasy sports sites DraftKings and FanDuel are merging into one company in what will be a

dual-operating

structure. DraftKings CEO Jason Robins will become CEO of the newly combined company and FanDuel CEO Nigel Eccles will become Chairman of the Board.

9. WhatsApp is on its way to becoming the global multi-platform FaceTime. The Facebook-owned communication app launched video calling for everyone.

10. A red-hot new startup called Hustle announced it’s raised $3 million led by Social Capital. The text-distribution tool’s goal is to let organizers quickly start individual, personalized conversations with huge groups of supporters. It has already been used by Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

11. Samsung is gunning to increase its focus on connected cars as it announced plans to buy auto and audio product maker Harman in an $8 billion all-cash deal.

12. LinkedIn was officially blocked in Russia after the social network failed to transfer Russian user data to servers located in the country. This violates a law instituted in Russia requiring all online sites to store personal data on national servers.

Author : Anna Escher

Source : techcrunch.com

Categorized in News & Politics
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