Google said Monday that a contractor mistakenly told staffers working for the search engine that InfoWars should be ranked as a low-quality site.
The prominent right-wing website — which has been known to stoke conspiracy theories — blasted Google on Monday after pro-Trump media personality Mike Cernovich shared screenshots that showed a Google contractor saying InfoWars should be rated as a “low-to-medium” reliable site since its stories are “often debunked.”
A Google spokesperson appeared to confirm the validity of Cernovich’s report, linking Business Insider to his Medium post.
Google employs contractors to rate the websites that appear in its search results — the rating is used to improve search quality, helping Google’s automated search algorithm prioritise higher-rated, reliable information.
In examining how the staffers working as website “raters” should evaluate a “rather poor site,” the contractor pointed to InfoWars, advising raters to consider the quality of the information and its reputation.
Google’s spokesperson distanced the company from the contractor’s instructions, telling Business Insider that it does not instruct quality raters how to grade specific websites, but gives general rules to get unbiased feedback to improve the algorithm.
“In this instance, we have confirmed that a vendor we work with sent out more detailed instructions to some raters without our knowledge, which included references to specific sites,” the spokesperson said. “This is in conflict with the intent of our guidelines and the vendor has taken action to remove these references in their training module.”
The rating incident with InfoWars involved Google’s general web search engine, which pulls results from across the web. That’s different from Google News, which only features publications that have been preapproved as trustworthy by special staff.
Earlier this year, Google explained how more than 10,000 quality rating contractors use a 200-page guideline book to evaluate information for Google search.
“We’re explicitly avoiding the term ‘fake news,’ because we think it is too vague,” said Paul Haahr, a senior Google engineer who is involved with search quality. “Demonstrably inaccurate information, however, we want to target.”
InfoWars was up in arms over the news on Monday. Cernovich appeared on founder Alex Jones’ show, where he called for peaceful protests outside Google.
A self-proclaimed “new right” media personality, Cernovich has become one of the most prominent pro-Trump new media personalities, branding himself as a provocateur unafraid to engage with enemies, promote conspiracy theories, and share controversial opinions about gender and identity politics issues.
Last year, he stoked rumours about Hillary Clinton’s health issues and propagated the disproven conspiracy theory that Washington, DC, restaurant Comet Ping Pong was the site of a child sex ring.
Still, in the past several weeks, Cernovich has broken legitimate news stories about the new administration.
Cernovich reported on Medium that former national security adviser Susan Rice allegedly requested the names of Trump associates whose communications were incidentally collected, a report later verified by Bloomberg View columnist Eli Lake.
The report earned Cernovich a hat tip from President Donald Trump’s senior counselor, Kellyanne Conway, and Donald Trump Jr., who said he deserved a Pulitzer Prize.
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