Would you trust Google to determine what’s “true” and to censor what is not?
According to an article in New Scientist, the Internet search giant is considering a new algorithm for ranking its search results: one based not on how commonly a site is linked – which is central to its current system – but on how “trustworthy” Google determines the source website to be.
In other words, those sites Google says print truth would come up first in user searches, while those sites Google thinks stray too often from the truth would be buried on a later page.
New Scientist author Hal Hodson explains: “The Internet is stuffed with garbage. Anti-vaccination websites make the front page of Google, and fact-free ‘news’ stories spread like wildfire. Google has devised a fix – rank websites according to their truthfulness.”
Hodson’s implication that anti-vaccination sites are inherently untrustworthy, however, only serves to highlight the questions his article doesn’t answer: What if Google’s version of the “truth” is mistaken? Or biased?
Google controls nearly two-thirds of the world’s search results, CNN reports, making it one of the biggest Internet gateways for more than a billion people around the world.
The Washington Post further declared, “Google long ago went from being a mere directory of the Internet to a shaper of online reality, helping determine what we see and how,” based on former Psychology Today editor Robert Epstein’s research, which revealed search engines have the power to profoundly impact elections and voters, even without them realizing it.
RedState’s Ben Howe, furthermore, has documented Google is not only deeply involved with the Democrat Party in the U.S., but its chairman, Eric Schmidt, was also the Obama campaign’s go-to tech man in the 2012 election.
“We know that Obama campaign manager Jim Messina received personal mentoring on both technology approaches and management style from Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, his friend since the 2008 campaign,” Howe reported. “We know that Google employees overwhelmingly contributed to Democrats in the last cycle (and aggregate individual employee contributions outnumbered the company’s PAC contributions). We know that Google vice president and ‘chief Internet evangelist’ Vint Cerf received a presidential appointment to the National Science Board following [the 2012] election.
“Is it paranoid to believe that Google is deeply invested in helping Democrats?” Howe asks. “No.”
So on what basis will Google determine whose information is and isn’t deemed “trustworthy”?
Hodson explains the system – which is not yet live – taps into Google’s Knowledge Vault, a virtual storehouse of information the company has been building for years. The new system would then check a page against the Vault and compute the number of “incorrect” facts.
“A source that has few false facts is considered to be trustworthy,” Google’s reported research team explains.
“Facts the web unanimously agrees on are considered a reasonable proxy for truth,” Hodson continues. “Web pages that contain contradictory information are bumped down the rankings.”
Matt Stempeck, the director of civic media at Microsoft New York, told New Scientist Google’s proposed new system would lend the company’s credibility with the public to the shaping of public opinion.
“How do you correct people’s misconceptions? People get very defensive,” Stempeck said. “If they’re searching for the answer on Google they might be in a much more receptive state.”