By Michael Liedtke, AP
SAN FRANCISCO–Google’s search engine highlighted an inaccurate story claiming that President-elect Donald Trump won the popular vote in last week’s election, the latest example of bogus information spread by the internet’s gatekeepers.
The incorrect results were shown Monday in a two-day-old story posted on the pro-Trump “70 News” site. A link to the site appeared at or near the top of Google’s influential rankings of relevant news stories for searches on the final election results.
Google acknowledged the problem, although as of mid-afternoon Monday, the link to “70 News” remained prominent in its results.
Although Google rarely removes content from its search results, the company is taking steps to punish sites that manufacture falsehoods. In a move disclosed Monday, Google says it will prevent its lucrative digital ads from appearing on sites that “misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information.” The action could give sites a bigger incentive to get things right or risk losing a valuable source of revenue. Fake News on Steroids
False information is nothing new on the internet, where debunkers have been batting down unfounded claims and urban legends for more than two decades.
But the problem has gained more attention in the post-mortem of a bitterly contested presidential election in which Trump, a Republican billionaire and former reality TV star, defeated Hillary Clinton, a Democrat and former U.S. secretary of state who had been leading in the polls.
Trump wound up prevailing in enough key states to win the Electoral College’s decisive vote, but is trailing Clinton in the overall popular vote with some ballots still being counted. Clinton’s lead in the popular vote has become one of the flashpoints in the protests against Trump’s election being staged in cities across the country.
Google is just the latest company in the crosshairs. Fake news stories uncritically circulated during and after the election on Facebook have sparked a debate over the role of social media companies, which are key sources of news for large numbers of people. Critics suggest that these companies should be more careful to ensure they aren’t passing along misleading information. Social Media and The News Google’s dominant search engine is the leading source of traffic to media sites, according to the online analytics firm Chartbeat. Meanwhile, a study by the Pew Research Center found about 60 percent of Americans get at least some of their news from social media sites such as Facebook, which now has 178 million users in the U.S. and Canada.
In the election’s aftermath, Facebook has been accused of possibly swaying the election’s outcome by promoting fake news stories on its social network. Last summer, the company fired a handful of journalists who oversaw its “trending” news list and replaced them with an algorithm; fake news stories quickly began to trend.