Fake news is not leaving the headlines and people are quick to throw around accusations. Here’s how you can show Google that your website doesn’t spread fake news.
While the topic “fake news” is not brand new, it only really blew up during the refugee crisis and the US election. But, let’s clear up the term first:
What Are Fake News?
Fake news are all types of deliberate false and misinformation. The most common distribution channel is via social media. But there are also some popular, and some less popular websites that are dedicated to the deliberate distribution of false information. The motivations behind that are very different.
In their most dangerous form, spreading misinformation is a manipulation attempt. The public’s opinion is supposed to be turned towards a certain political, or religious direction. Thus, especially autocratic systems like to make use of fake news.
By the same token, fake news can also be used as a fighting word, or for denunciation purposes. The US president Donald Trump gives us almost daily examples for this abusive usage, by simply denunciating all media that does not agree with him as fake news.
Some websites even spread fake news for entertainment purposes – in the form of satire. Usually, this type of fake news is so exaggerated that any thinking human should be able to recognize what he’s dealing with. However, a look at the comment sections of these pages shows that this assumption often is not correct.
Some others simply want to make ad revenue off of sensational topics. This type of revenue generation is currently being shut down by Google.
Not every hoax is fake news. Fake news is always backed by the hope of achieving a viral effect, which is why social media is integrated to such a large extent. Thus, fake news are only fake news if they were created deliberately, knowing that the content is false, and pursuing the goal of distribution. This won’t be the case for most simple editor errors, or linguistic inaccuracies.
Because of that, the distinction is much easier than it seems.
Fake News From the Search Engine’s Point of View
Of course, the phenomenon of fake news is a problem of the information society as a whole. Thus, it takes a lot of media expertise when moving through the web as an information consumer.
Aside from this dimension of the problem, fake news are an especially big problem for the operators of search engines, like Google. The success of a search engine depends on the quality of the search results it delivers. Simply search a term on Yahoo, and check Google afterwards – the difference will be striking.
For Google, which still exclusively generates positive revenue from the ad business, its image of omniscience is bascially vital. If page 1 of search results on popular topics was mainly covered in fake news, the credibility of these results is not looking too good anymore.
In return, Google has been alarmed regarding the most recent developments, and has started to counteract. Just like Facebook, Google has shut down the ad revenue for all content providers that they can recognize as distributors of fake news. While this is a bold measure, it is in no way sufficient to solve the problem in the long run.
Fighting Fake News Via Fact Checks
Because of that, Google has been evaluating the validity of website contents for several years now. Similarly to the rating of inbound links as a ranking factor, in theory, Google is able to use the factual validity of the provided information as a ranking factor. However, at least right now, the substance of a website does not appear to be a ranking factor yet. Software that eases and automatizes factchecking is already in the works.
How serious Google is about fighting fake news is also shown in the recently introduced tightening of guidelines in the “Search Quality Rating Programm“. Here, Google gives their result judges clear signs of which content is to be viewed as low quality content. This also includes pages that present themselves as news outlets, while spreading factually inaccurate content to grant financial or other advantages to a person, a business, a government, or other organizations. Pages that present shady scientific pseudo-facts are also mentioned explicitly.
How to Show That You’re Not a Fake News Sling
There’s no meta tag “nofake”, that would let you show Google that you’re not a fake news sling, and I would not expect this rational option to be created ;-)
So all that you have left is good old manual work. This is the easiest for journalists. Now that we know that Google has trained their algorithm to check pages for factual accuracy for years now, we can make use of this knowledge, and work just like that algorithm (as far as we can assess it).
The basic approach sounds as mundane as it is: don’t write anything that you can’t prove. If it’s about new thoughts that lack verifiability, make sure that they can not be proven wrong either. Here, you can assume that the level of fact checks will be relatively low. Thus, you won’t have to be afraid of your content being declared as fake news, just because an author that is not any more popular than you are, claims something else. However, if all people claim something else, it gets difficult.
Another good way to shim your presentations is to use publicly accessible databases, that are generally accepted as recognized sources of knowledge. If you don’t know where to find such databases, check out this article.
While you’re at it, you could garnish your websites so that they always give a panorama view on the topic you’re dealing with. This won’t always work, as potential financial interests might prevent you from linking certain sources, like your competitor. This won’t apply to every topic, though. If possible, give your reader 360-information that makes it unnecessary to look somewhere else.
Conclusion: If Google Wants to do Something, They Can do it. Be Prepared.
Honesty is the best policy. Hopefully, your parents have already taught you that, and it still applies today. Even when it comes to providing information on the worldwide web. The more reliably you supply your visitors, the better your chances to be in the top spots of the search ranking.
The risk of going viral on the wave of misinformation is too high, especially considering that the search engine giant could stop this today if they wanted to.