Google’s ‘Fake News’ Fight Threatens Honest Journalism [Opinion]

“Fake news” is a term you now hear on an almost daily basis. Society has become obsessed with it; how to get rid of it; how to avoid it; how to spot it. Google has gone through tremendous pains to suppress it from their search engine results as effectively as possible, and they’ve succeeded to a large degree. But with success also comes failure. In this case, Google’s attempts to combat fake news have resulted in drastic changes to its algorithm; changes that pose real threats to honest journalism.

Google headquarters in Seattle
Snapshot of the outside of Google headquarters in Seattle, Washington. [Image by SEASTOCK/Shutterstock]

If an Internet news writer ever tells you that Google is never on their mind, they’re lying. We’re borderline obsessed with it. What does Google like? What does it hate? What will it ignore and what will it favor? People base their whole careers on trying to figure out what makes Google “tick,” so to speak, though no one, except maybe those whose job it is to program its algorithm, have or will ever completely figure it out. There are several reasons for this, but more than anything it comes down to this: no one is supposed to be able to figure it out.

Google “Fred” Update

Sometime during late January and early February, Google made a substantial change to their algorithm. These changes impacted the entire online news community, some worse than others. Moz, a search engine watchdog, first noted this change on February 1. Within a week, Moz confirmed that a significant update of Google’s algorithm had taken place. Though at this time there’s been no official moniker given to the update by Google, unofficially it’s been named “Fred.”

According to The Stack, Fred “wreaked havoc on a huge tranche of middling blog and news-style sites, some of which report catastrophic losses in traffic.” Some believe its purpose was to eliminate websites that generate income through generous advertising rather than valuable, factual content, but this theory has been refuted by others, who say they’ve witnessed sites with minimal ad content that once did well now failing miserably as a consequence to Google’s latest update.

It didn’t take long for experts to ruminate on the possibility Fred was largely implemented to filter out so-called “fake news.”

Meanwhile, while many alternative media sites are suffering substantial losses in traffic in response to Fred, mainstream news agencies, though there’s evidence they were impacted by Fred’s changes at first, seem to be doing as well as they’ve always done. Outlets like CNN, Fox News, ABC, NBC, etc are automatically given good page rank because of their domain authority. Essentially this means that because of their names and mainstream status, they’re considered by Google to be more trustworthy than non-mainstream outlets.

Scrutinization of Fred has suggested that in order for a site’s content to score a high Google ranking, it must contain similar information and claims as other high-ranking results. Though this works to successfully eliminate false content, it’s also a huge hindrance to honest journalism from writers of lesser-known websites. Imagine being a journalist of an alternative network, and as luck would have it, you’ve come across a huge tip having to do with a trending story. It’s big and you know it, so you race to publish the new information only to find that Google has surpassed your story because more “reputable” sites haven’t yet mentioned what you’ve mentioned. As an honest journalist, you deserve recognition and credit for that story, but the fake news hysteria, which ironically was originally coined by these so-called “reputable” sources, has cheated you out of that opportunity.

Google Fact Check

Now, Google has made it possible for web users to see which search results are “true” and which are “false,” as a feature of the fact-checking software first launched by the company last autumn. While on the surface it may seem like this is a step in the right direction, dig a little deeper and you’ll come to find that there are major biases at work; biases which will serve as a direct influence to whether or not content is dubbed as “true” or “false.”


“After assessing feedback from both users and publishers, we’re making the Fact Check label in Google News available everywhere, and expanding it into Search globally in all languages.”

Basically, the people of Google believe that you need their assistance to figure out the truth, which is, among many things, downright insulting.

Even if these fact-checkers utilized by Google aren’t by themselves biased, which is certainly up for debate, they’re reliant on biased sources in their quest for the truth. Put simply, if you’re not someone who trusts the mainstream media, you probably shouldn’t have faith that Google’s fact-checking system will provide you with “the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

Barriers to honest journalism have been established. Perhaps it’s just the nature of the beast, but for those of us dedicated to factual news reporting, it’s a threat to one of the world’s most sacred of things: truth.

[Featured Image by Lightspring/Shutterstock]