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Fighting Misinformation: Google vs. The Internet
Picture by Flickr user Sean Davis

Fighting Misinformation: Google vs. The Internet

The internet is full of garbage, you know it, I know it, let’s not kid ourselves. Anti-vaccination websites get to the first page of Google and factual inaccurate “news” stories spread like wildfire, while pictures of “Blue and Gold Dresses” dominate Facebook and fast-track news websites. In a world where most of our information is gathered on the internet, misinformation become a real threat. Thankfully(?), Google has devised a fix – rank websites according to their truthfulness.

Google’s search engine currently uses the number of incoming links to a web page as a proxy for quality, determining where it appears in search results. So pages that many other sites link to are ranked higher. This system has brought us the search engine as we know it today, but the downside is that websites full of misinformation can rise up the rankings, if enough people link to them. A Google research team is adapting that model to measure the trustworthiness of a page, rather than its reputation across the web. Instead of counting incoming links, the system – which is not yet live – counts the number of incorrect facts within a page. Is Google able to so rigorously impact what is considered ‘true’? Unsurprisingly enough they are. The software works by tapping into the Knowledge Vault, the vast store of facts that Google has pulled off the internet. When you type “Where was Elvis born?” into Google, the place given is pulled from Google’s knowledge base.

First of all, this feels like a fantastic initiative. Google has become one of the primary sources of information in the world, and any effort to clean up the quality of information it presents must be a good thing, right? Especially when you consider the harm that factually incorrect information can inflict. Misinformation can cost people their life saving. Misinformation can cause countries to go to war when they shouldn’t. Misinformation can collapse global economies. Misinformation can cause outbreaks of disease once thought eradicated. Misinformation can cause the destruction of the environment… I believe that misinformation is the biggest problem facing the world today, and we should be devoting a lot more resources to fighting it. But despite all this, I am afraid that Googles heroic stride into this battle will be for naught.

And the illuminati new world order will probably be invoked to explain it too.

No one likes being told what the truth is from some impersonal unchallengeable authority figure. And you can’t make misinformation go away just by hiding it out of sight. Censorship never goes down well on the internet, and I can guarantee you that if content about the ‘moon landing hoax’, and ‘9/11 truth’ and the ‘vaccine-autism link’ start disappearing from Google’s results — there will be lots of complaints of censorship. And the illuminati new world order will probably be invoked to explain it too.

If you want to fight back against misinformation, you must embrace the fact that misinformation exists, and that people believe it. You have to actually bring it out into the sunlight, and let the debate take place in full public view in a structured, permanent manner. The internet already automatically fights back against misinformation. Try writing an article which holds an opinion on anything. If that article has any significant number of viewers, then you can pretty much guarantee someone will take the time to tell you you are wrong!

John Stuart Mill argued that silencing an opinion is “a peculiar evil.” If the opinion is right, we are robbed of the “opportunity of exchanging error for truth”; and if it’s wrong, we are deprived of a deeper understanding of the truth in its “collision with error.” If we know only our own side of the argument, we hardly know even that: it becomes stale, soon learned by rote, untested, a pallid and lifeless truth.’ –Carl Sagan (1934–1996)

A world full of critical thinkers in the only way to stop the rampant misinformation, and to get to that world we need to focus our efforts on a new form of education that complies with the current technological advances. We can shape the future generation to tackle these problems, of which misinformation is only one.


About Coen Berkhout

Coen is a fourth year International Relations student. Focusing on Technology, Philosophy and Politics, he tries to bring you interesting articles that challenge your view of the world and hopefully make you look towards the future. In his personal life his greatest joy is playing Lacrosse for the Groningen Gladiators

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