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
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 recognize 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,
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,
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
was scrutinized 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.
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,” Pichai 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.