Google is the next big internet firm to be blasted for promoting fake news. This time it’s a story about former President Barack Obama, who is supposedly planning a coup to overthrow the Trump administration, at least according to stories being promoted by Google.
Obama working with Chinese communists?
The problem is with the Featured Snippets feature, which is what you see when you ask a question, whether in the search box on the Google browser or using your voice with Google Assistant. Typing a question reveals an answer in the search results at the top of the page, and that answer is viewable without even clicking on any of the links in the search results.
The search giant pulls the answer from one of the links it provides in the search results, and unfortunately, the link it uses isn’t always right. Sometimes the answer is just plain wrong, while other times it may be severely biased in one direction or sometimes even extremely insulting.
In this case, when someone asks Google whether Obama is planning a coup, the search giant responds “Obama may in fact be planning a Communist coup d’etat at the end of his term in 2016.”
It also claims that Trump’s predecessor is “in bed with the communist Chinese.”
Google’s Featured Snippets – Not the first time this has happened
This isn’t the first time the search giant has had problems with fake answers turning up in Featured Snippets. For example, The Guardian reported in December that Google promoted an answer from a website that stated, “Every woman has some degree of her prostitute in her. Every woman has some evil in her.”
The search engine can fix each of these issues manually on a case-by-case basis, but needless to say,
Facebook also took flak recently for fake news stories, but in some ways, Google’s problem may be worse than fake news. Many users probably don’t even realize that what they’re seeing isn’t a real answer. In some cases, it should be obvious, like when Search Engine Land founding editor Danny Sullivan asked his Google Home device whether Republicans are fascists and received the answer, “Yes. Republicans equals Nazis.”
Some hard-core Democrats would probably agree with that statement, and that’s how there ended up being a link stating this. Unfortunately, the search engine presents the information as fact with no context or source, resulting in the promotion of conspiracy theories rather than real news. Obama himself blasted Facebook for the fake news problem, so maybe he will also say something about Google soon.