Insiders at Google are 'disturbed' by its Holocaust search results and now they're doing something about it

Ben GomesFlickrBen Gomes, vice president of core search at Google.

Google engineers and executives are disturbed by how its algorithm promotes offensive and fake content on the web — such as a Holocaust denial site reaching the top result for certain Holocaust searches — and they are doing something about it, search expert and editor of Search Engine Land Danny Sullivan reports.

After meeting with Google insiders including vice president of core search Ben Gomes, Sullivan said: “There’s no question that Google has heard the concerns. There’s no question those within Google itself are disturbed by what’s being raised. But the desire is to find solutions that are generally defensible, rooted in policy and which can be implemented through algorithms, as much as possible.”

In a statement following Sullivan’s meetings, Google said:

“The goal of search is to provide the most relevant and useful results for our users. Clearly, we don’t always get it right, but we continually work to improve our algorithms. This is a really challenging problem, and something we’re thinking deeply about in terms of how we can do a better job. Search is a reflection of the content that exists on the web. The fact that hate sites appear in Search results in no way means that Google endorses these views.”

Sullivan’s report is the most detailed response we have seen on how Google is reacting internally to criticism over its role in spreading fake news, and for its offensive — and factually false — search suggestions and results.

The fact that the search giant might solve the problem algorithmicly, suggests that it could find a way to automatically demote fake results in its ranking rather than leave the rankings alone but label false or poor quality sites.

An algorithmic approach would obviously impact publishers way beyond the measures it has taken to combat the problem so far, such as adding a fact-checking label to news, which was rolled out in October.

There are no details as yet on what the solution will be, Sullivan says: “Google won’t go on the record about what it may do, largely because it’s not even certain yet what that will be, only that it knows it needs to do something.”

Whilst Sullivan is sympathetic to the search giant, pointing out that Google is “taking the brunt of this issue because, in the end, it’s the leading search engine,” he also suggests that the company is running out of time to act, saying that: “It’s also important for Google to act promptly to correct these issues … it has let autocomplete issues fester for years. It doesn’t get yet more years to deal with that. Within a few weeks, at most a few months, we really need to see visible and meaningful change. That’s enough time for a solution to be done with thought and care.”

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