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Google is surfacing Texas shooter misinformation in search results - thanks also to Twitter

Google is surfacing Texas shooter misinformation in search results - thanks also to Twitter
From TechCrunch - November 6, 2017

Google has once again been called out for algorithmically encouraging the spread of dubious, politically charged speculation and misinformation around a topical news event.

In the latest instance of the algorithmic amplification of misinformation, the news event in question is a shooting in a Texas church on Sunday. Authorities haveidentified26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley as the perpetrator.

Users of Googles search engine who conduct internet searches for queries such as who is Devin Patrick Kelley?or just do a simple search for his namecan be exposed to tweets claiming the shooter was a Muslim convert; or a member of Antifa; or a Democrat supporter

The core issue is that Google is prominently placing unverified claims high up in its hierarchy of relevance-ranked dataaka Google search resultswhich the company has itself previously likened to a library index of truthful data. (Albeit its demonstrably a pretty skew-able index when your passing oracle of truth can be Julian Assanges Twitter feed ).

The section where this content is being embedded within Googles search results is powered by its access to Twitters firehose of tweets, combined, it says, with its own ranking algorithmswhich apparently also favor the kind of wild, clickbait-y and unverified claims that have been shown to spread like wildfire on Facebook (akafake news).

The dynamic handful of tweets that Googles algorithms choose to showcase within search results are sometimes labeled Popular on Twitter (or else just on Twitter).

They do appear below a Top Stories section, which sits at the top of results. But the Twitter content is still very prominently displayed near the top of Google search resultsmeaning internet searchers looking for genuine information around a developing news story may well be being unwittingly exposed to entirely unverified claims, including maliciously motivated, politically charged misinformation.

(On that wider topic, Google, Twitter and Facebook have all been giving evidence to Congressthis month about how their platforms wereand still are beingmanipulated as part of Russian political disinformation campaigns targeting U.S. voters.)

Asked about the Texas-related misinformation its algorithmically surfacing now, a spokesperson for Google provided us with the following statement:The search results appearing from Twitter, which surface based on our ranking algorithms, are changing second by second and represent a dynamic conversation that is going on in near real-time.

For the queries in question, they are not the first results we show on the page. Instead, they appear after news sources, including our Top Stories carousel which we have been constantly updating. Well continue to look at ways to improve how we rank tweets that appear in search.

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