Home Data Google snippets 'can be much worse than fake news'

Google snippets 'can be much worse than fake news'

Google's featured snippets on search results, which appear right at the top, often provide shockingly incorrect information, leading one academic to characterise them as being worse than fake news.

Students of Peter Shulman, an associate history professor at Case Western Reserve University in Ohio, provided a good example when they searched for US presidents who had been members of the Ku Klux Klan, during a lecture on the re-emergence of the Klan in the 1920s.

Google's search snippet pulled results from an obscure site and claimed that not one, but five, US presidents had belonged to the KKK.

An article in The Outline said that such incorrect information had been increasingly provided by Google in the last five years as it had moved towards providing direct answers rather than just a list of relevant Web pages.

Another example provided was the type of information that comes up on Google when one types in the name of a person, a word, or a question. The response is in a box and set apart from the rest of the links that come up.

google klan

The information about the KKK was served up by Google from a publication known as Trent Online that described itself as a leading Internet newspaper Nigeria.

But the material was not its own; it had been obtained from a site called iloveblackpeople.net which cited as its authority for the KKK claim the Christian national pseudo-historian David Barton and the site kkk.org.

Several more examples were given in The Outline article which also pointed out that the search engine did get things right on occasion.

google which

Asked for comment by The Outline, Google, as usual, gave a canned response: "“The Featured Snippets feature is an automatic and algorithmic match to the search query, and the content comes for third-party sites. We're always working to improve our algorithms, and we welcome feedback on incorrect information, which users may share through the 'Feedback' button at the bottom right of the Featured Snippet."


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.