The Alphabet Inc. company is making a rare, sweeping change to the algorithm behind its powerful search engine to demote misleading, false and offensive articles online. Google is also setting new rules encouraging its “raters” -- the 10,000-plus staff that assess search results -- to flag web pages that host hoaxes, conspiracy theories and what the company calls “low-quality” content.
“It was not a large fraction of queries -- only about a quarter percent of our traffic -- but they were important queries,” said Ben Gomes, vice president of engineering for Google.
How’s Google learning from the data to figure out what’s authoritative? How’s that actually being put into practice?
Google wouldn’t comment about these specifics. It wouldn’t say what goes into determining how a page is deemed to be authoritative now or how that is changing with the new algorithm. It did say that there isn’t any one particular signal. Instead, authority is determined by a combination of many factors.
My best guess is that for infrequent and unusual queries, Google has been giving more weight to pages that seem a better contextual match, even if they lack strong authority.
This simply isn’t good enough: Google is going to be making decisions about who is authoritative and who is not, which is another way of saying that Google is going to be making decisions about what is true and what is not, and that demands more transparency, not less.
Again, I tend to agree that fake news is actually more of a problem on Google than it is Facebook; moreover, I totally understand that Google can’t make its algorithms public because they will be gamed by spammers and fake news purveyors. But even then, the fact remains that the single most important resource for finding the truth, one that is dominant in its space thanks to the fact that being bigger inherently means being better, is making decisions about what is true without a shred of transparency.