The promotion of fake news is a big problem that sites like Facebook and Google are scrambling to fix. Both companies have made efforts to bury bad links from their algorithms, but some stories are still slipping through.
Right now on Google, if you type in “can a president run a third term,” the top result shown is fake.
An answer from the site NewsExaminer.net pops up in Google’s featured snippet section and claims that President Obama “shocked the country this morning” by announcing he’d be running for office again.
Which of course, a president of the United States cannot do.
Google says articles for its featured snippets and summaries section are chosen programmatically (by algorithms, not humans). “When we recognise that a query asks a question, we programmatically detect pages that answer the user’s question, and display a top result as a featured snippet in the search results,” the company writes in its description of featured snippets.
Google Home, Google’s personal assistant hardware, uses top Google snippets to populate the messages it reads back to listeners. I tested the same question, “can a president run a third term,” on my Google Home and got the same NewsExaminer story. You can watch my Google Home give me the fake news answer, below.
When asked “Can a president run for a third term?” Google Home did say the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, enacted after President Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected four times, now imposes a two term limit, citing InfoPlease.
Part of the fake news problem
The fake news article isn’t just showing up in the featured snippet, either. The NewsExaminer.net article also appears as the third Google search result on the page.
This isn’t the first programmatic fake news problem Google has had. Google recently decided to sunset its “In the News” feature after it was scrutinised for showing a false article about the US election results. In November, the top Google result for a “final election count” search declared that Donald Trump had won the popular vote (he didn’t). It was written by a WordPress blog and had been picked up by Google’s “In The News” algorithm.
Google CEO Sundar Pichai told BBC’s Kamal Ahmed that fake news could have influenced the election, and that it needs to be stopped. “From our perspective,” Pichaei said, “there should just be no situation where fake news gets distributed, so we are all for doing better here.”
Google has not yet returned a request for comment.