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Google moves to block predatory sites but fake news still flourishes

Google is changing its search algorithm to better police harmful content emanating from predatory defamation sites thanks to reporting on the topic by the New York Times – at least according to the NYT.

Personal online attacks are widespread and growing, and the malicious intent behind them is more financially motivated than most people think.

There are many websites out there that not just offer a publishing opportunity for anonymous accusations but actively court them.

If you wish to publicly defame someone, these sites are more than happy to publish your libellous claims without verification on their victimisation sites.

These sites, mostly hosted in locales known to avoid taking action against online abuse, then gleefully blackmail victims to remove the content.

But by then the accusations have travelled around the world many times over and are cached in servers located in every corner of every country – mainly thanks to Google’s omnipresence and these hate sites’ talent at gaining prominence in the search engine’s results.

But now, Google has finally seen how inherently wrong this seems say the NYT. The search giant has announced plans to change its methodology to prevent victimisation sites from ranking, or hopefully even appearing in search results.

It also plans to suppress further appearances of defamatory accusations and harmful content against people known to have been victimised.

This, claims the Times, is all because of recent articles in the newspaper about the problem.

The paper reports Google’s vice president for global policy, David Graff, as saying: “I doubt it will be a perfect solution, certainly not right off the bat. But I think it really should have a significant and positive impact.”

This is significant news.

The search engine has steadfastly resisted previous attempts to force it to tweak search results, casting such attempts as attacks against its neutrality.

But then, blocking spam websites and pirated media has apparently not been a sign of non-neutrality in Google’s eyes.

And this 2019 article in the Wall Street Journal alleges the big G regularly interferes with search results to benefit powerful interests despite claiming it doesn’t and arguing against regulation.

Perhaps we can also thank the EU for Google’s capitulation. It’s 2014 legislation establishing the right of its citizens to request inaccurate information on search engines be removed sets the stage for a wider implementation of these rights – despite Google’s resistance to the regulation.

As for our take on all this; we are glad that Google is pursuing an algorithmic approach to the problem rather than simply playing whack-a-mole when people report online defamation.

But, if the company that controls over 90 percent of global search results can do this, why are we still seeing pandemic proportions of fake news, much of it doubly promoted through unproportionally representing feedback from uninformed and gullible readers?

Until fake news is adequately controlled, the news industry and its professional journalists providing authoritative international news content will continue to suffer.

Read the NYT article here and catch Google’s April blog on taking down harmful content here, and a June update on from Google on online harassment protections. And anyone wanting Google to remove harmful data and search results can apply here, but first read the documentation.