Tech-Enabled Disinformation

Facebook has come under a lot of heat since the election for allowing fake news and disinformation to be spread quite so easily via its platform.

It is not, however, alone amongst tech giants, in being culpable in this respect. Take, for instance, this Google search ranking from November 13th, featuring a Wordpress.com conspiracy website called "70 news" (70news.wordpress.com) that confidently publishes fabricated absolute bullshit as if fact.

In this instance, the article claims "FINAL ELECTION 2016 NUMBERS: TRUMP WON BOTH POPULAR ( 62.9 M -62.2 M ) AND ELECTORAL COLLEGE VOTES ( 306-232)"

The spacing errors and all-caps in the title both pain me, but an appreciation of good grammar and punctuation is my problem. What should not be my issue to contend with, however, is that the facts behind the headline paint an entirely picture.

This isn't just appearing second in the organic search results for the key-phrase "final popular vote 2016", but it is also second in the "Top stories" news rotator atop the search listings, earning it a big feature placement, replete with graphics of a squinty-eyed Trump and purse-lipped Clinton.

The veracity of the article be damned. The giveaway fact the article title is written in ALL CAPS is irrelevant. The website is split into six categories of news; "SHOWBIZ", "RELIGION", "NEWS", "FINANCE", "POLITICS" and "HILLARY'S HEALTH". This is apparently not cause for concern.

Whilst Google shouldn't censor news, this is not news. It is misinformation from an unreputable source. Google should not delist such content, but its algorithms equally shouldn't rank it top for a highly popular search-phrase at a critical moment in America's history. The damage done by such BS, and the credibility a novice web-user might forgivably infer from a feature-banner placement, means Google has a responsibility.

Firms that claim their platforms are powerful tools for marketing and advertising, such as Facebook and Google, must accept that with bumper profits comes a degree of social responsibility. Forward-looking visions of "revolutionising" industries are amazing, but paying attention to how existing technology is already used by people outside the Bay area would be nice, too.


Update 2016-11-14 1820 UTC: The Washington Post has decided to cover this story as well.