Google Says Its Job Is To Promote Climate Change Conspiracy Theories

Yesterday, I wrote a short post about Google's Top Stories module. If you were in the US and googled "great barrier reef" on Wednesday, you'd be presented with a Breitbart article filled with ravings about how climate change isn't real, featured at the very top in the site's highlighted "Top Stories" box. When I went to the company's press team to see what was up, they assured me it was perfectly normal for an article written by a noted climate change denier to get pinned to the top of Google's results.

Google Top Stories Serves Breitbart Garbage On Climate Science

Read more

In fact, a Google spokesperson told me via email that the job of a search engine is to present a range of news and views from across the spectrum. In theory, that sounds great, but maybe there should be an exception carved out for complete nonsense on climate science? If Google serves a climate denying Breitbart article within its search results, that's fine. At a very basic level, the Google search engine works by crawling and indexing the web, and does its best to present relevant links based on the search query. If some wild conspiracy is added to the results as a product of crawling the web, I can live with that. But presenting baseless climate lies in the sectioned off Top Stories module, something Google has complete control over, gives the article an appearance of credibility it certainly doesn't deserve.

Google's defence of the story appearing in the Top Stories module was that it appears alongside other points of view. Unfortunately for Google, what's happening in Australia's Great Barrier Reef isn't exactly a point of view, but more of a consensus among scientists and climate experts. It's irresponsible for Google to carelessly attach some implicit credibility to a story that is pushing garbage climate denial.

Even more unfortunate is the fact that the president of the country Google is headquartered in has employed former Breitbart executive chair Steve Bannon as his chief strategist, and an increasing number of Americans are reading the website's toxic untruths as fact. The company has a lot of responsibility here, and it has tried to shed virtually all of it. Google should make the legitimately difficult but correct decision to filter out climate denial from its Top Stories module. It is simply the right thing to do, and Google knows it. Google can present whatever range of views it pleases, but pushing climate change denial goes beyond that, reaching into the territory of active harm.

There are some things in this world that are simply just true, and climate change is one of them. Climate change also happens to be one of the greatest threats to the world at large, and at the very least, Google, as one of the world's biggest information providers, could do a good job by not highlighting falsehoods about it.

In November, Google CEO Sundar Pichai said that it was important that services like Google promote accurate stories, saying, "From our perspective, there should just be no situation where fake news gets distributed." Not promoting lies about climate science might be a good place to start.

WATCH MORE: Tech News


Comments

    Are you expecting Google to read every article that it indexes, then grade them as to their basis in fact, and to only then display a list of appropriate articles matching a user's search criteria?

    Those who believe no proof is needed. For those that don't no proof is sufficient.

    It's not the job of the search engine to hand-pick what they show or don't based. Top stories should be picked based soley on what the most popular stories are at that time.

      If I could choose a search engine that excluded blatant lies, I would use that search engine. Who after all goe looking for an alternative TV guide that tells you the wrong times for shows? Who looks for information about Uganda hoping to find information about Urugay?
      What's the point in information if it's deliberatly wrong?

        So do you trust Google to be the final arbiter of truth? I don't. I'd rather make my own informed decisions based on all the information available, as false as some it may be. Some topics are just not as black and white as a TV guide. It is a dangerous precedent for search engines to censor information.

          I agree lots of topics are not Black and White and most will have some degree of opinion in them either overtly expressed or expressed through editing. However there are also scientific truths and blatant lies. Scientific Truth "Global Warming is real and it's man made" Blatant lie "The Great Barrier Reef is in great health"
          I know Google are working on Algorithms that relate to Credibility which don't censor information, it just put's the crap at the bottom of the pile. Publications that are known for lying like the Daily Mail. If the stuff at the top doesn't feel true I can still search for alternatives and still make informed decisions.

          Some topics are just not as black and white as a TV guide
          Totally agree, but when it comes to repetitively observed science, this is not an opinion, and saying otherwise is just a lie, not an opinion. Opinions dont make the antibiotics you take to clear an infection work, nor the computer you used to post that comment. Science and truth alone made that occur.

          How are you making an informed decision? Do you go for the middle ground? NAZIs want to kill all the Jews, the Jews would like none of them to be killed, so your informed decision is that half of the Jews must die? Or are your informed decisions based upon pre existing prejudices, and you're just looking for something to tell you that you're right?

          How do you get an informed decision if you aren't informed? I know maths, that's my major, so I'm okay at telling dodgy maths from legitimate proofs. I couldn't tell you if readings I didn't take from temperature monitors I didn't install are correct though, there's a lot of trust involved. And we've established the middle ground fallacy is, well, a fallacy, so your "informed decision" is wholly trust based as someone has to be lying. So how do you decide who to trust? How they look? Jury trials are notorious for deciding in favour of the more attractive person. How they talk? Friends recommendations?

          In computing there was a phrase, "rubbish in, rubbish out", albeit a tad more colourful, and it applies here. If you read nonsense then your decision is going to be based on that nonsense. If you aren't a climate scientist then you likely aren't capable of making an informed decision and as such what you do read should have the rubbish clearly marked as such. It's the biggest problem with a democracy; if you people read stupid things then you vote stupid and before you know it vaccinations are defunded, healthcare and education are optional, and a neo nazi is elected to the White House.

        Why do you expect Google to be the fact police? They take websites, they trawl through it to make search results pertinent to your request... God forbid you'd have to use some critical thinking to check the validity of the content. That's now apparently Google's job.

          If I want to know the Atomic Number for Caesium why would I want Google not to be the "Fact Police?" In what reality are Facts not what I'm after in most searches? I'm not looking for a range of options. The Atomic Number is 55, no it's 76, no it's 12 and then after that do some "critical thinking to check the validity of the content"
          You know that Google is a company founded on providing Information "facts provided or learned about something or someone" Yes FACTS is part of the dictionary definition of Information.
          If you would like to do some critical thinking then let me ask you this? Who and why would someone want to fill Google with "Alternative" Facts? Lies are after all the corruption of truth so who out their stands to gain from this corruption?

            Google is a search engine, not an encyclopedia. While they make efforts to present factual information where possible, ultimately its job is to help you find information, not to decide what's true and what isn't. If you want the atomic number for caesium, why not use Wikipedia?

            I went with the "It's not Google's job" line, and you respond with conspiracy crap. Why would someone want to fill Google with alternative facts? I don't know, and I don't care.

            Why would someone want to blame Google for the misinformation they blindly absorb? Because they don't - or can't - think critically for themselves.

            Also, lies are not a corruption of truth. They are the opposite of fact. Facts are a matter of what is and what is not, truth is a philosophical interpretation of fact.

            Google is not a company founded on providing information. It's a company founded on providing results for Internet searches. That's a fact. Whether those results are loaded with facts or lies is no concern of Google's. Trying to make it a concern of Google's is ostensibly trying to remove your own responsibility for disseminating and understanding what you read - and inevitably preach. Perhaps if you spent some time researching, you'd spend less time spreading the same bovine excrement you're decrying, yes?

            Last edited 28/03/17 2:03 pm

              Why would someone want to fill Google with alternative facts?
              Why would anyone try and influence public opinion about the health of the Great Barrier Reef? What could possibly be gained from pretending that Climate Change is not happening and it's not a problem? We all know what's going on here, right?

              http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/global-warming/exxon-and-the-oil-industry-knew-about-climate-change/exxons-climate-denial-history-a-timeline/

              So where does this "hey people should just do their own research" lead us. Oh yes here. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-03-06/health-groups-appalled-by-hanson-vaccination-remarks/8328714

              I do think there is a place for these stories on Google & Facebook but they are not News stories. [NEWS: newly received or noteworthy information, especially about recent events. - Information: being - Facts provided or learned about something or someone.]

              Perhaps in an Opinions section, would be more appropriate.

                I said - and let's take a minute to read - the following
                Why would someone want to fill Google with alternative facts? I don't know, and I don't care.

                Yet you spend paragraphs trying to explain it anyway.

                The point of my post was clear, but you reached for the dictionary instead of actually addressing anything I said.

                Thanks for that chat, but now you're just talking to yourself.

          That's now apparently Google's job
          I can certainly understand that point of view, but we aren't talking about a bunch of dumbo written random websites, we are talking about Top Stories. So in other words, something "humans" should be able to keep track of and change. A lot of people dont look at google as a "search engine", its an information source, and many just believe what they read, especially if they aren't scientifically educated (which is about 95% of the planet unfortunately, although less than 45% of the planet actually has internet access haha). That, in my eyes makes them (google) slightly responsible for what they display as "top" stories, no different than a newspapers...top stores.

            This is exactly why Google will choose to not moderate it's content unless forced to by a court of law. Most people believe what they are told, so if Google chooses what to show people, then that manipulates how they see the world. Free choice is not left to the user and they will see the world according to Google.

              Well, google wants as many people to use "it" as a search engine, I get that...and why they want that$ ;) Lies give you nothing but poor outcomes, Westminster Bridge just shows how opinions can sometimes be detrimental to the survival of a species, purely from an evolutionary point of view of course.

                Dictionary Definition of: information ɪnfəˈmeɪʃ(ə)n/Submit noun FACTS provided or learned about something or someone. Note the word FACTS. We all go to google looking for information not as an agglomeration of random opinions.
                What you have to ask is WHY does Breitbart want to fill Google and social media with disinformation? When the Media & Google are filled with so much disinformation and it becomes hard to know what's true and false. So who benefits?
                This is a great book BTW: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merchants_of_Doubt

                  Words have multiple definitions, and it's disingenuous to present only one definition from the OED when there are two. Particularly when the second has a subsection specifically relating to computing:

                  2 What is conveyed or represented by a particular arrangement or sequence of things.
                  2.1 (Computing) Data as processed, stored, or transmitted by a computer.

                  In this context information has no factual obligation, information is just data.

                  Put down the dictionary. You're not in English class, and your ability to look up a word and provide the definition doesn't actually assist your point, since you're not making a point. You're quoting a definition, and not even providing the source dictionary.

    its Google's job to promote the most popular links. If 10s of 1000s go to Breitbart , then they will rank highly. The fact that a technology journalist doesn't know this is stupidly amazing, and trying to get Google to change this is even more stupidly amazing. This has nothing to do with truth about climate change, it has everything to do with complex algorithms based a numerous metrics.

    Last edited 24/03/17 11:01 am

    Google's job is to organize the worlds information, presumably, for making the world more informed. I see no reason why countering (or labeling) misinformation wouldn't be part of this. Indeed, it is a critical part of this... I really like the 'now heres a counter argument' feature of FB and Google, I think its also a critical part of this, I have no problems with differing opinions and arguments. But when something is obviously bs...

    I understand there are significant challenges in this, but to just palm it off with a blasé attitude as if to be proud you are defending 'free speech'... You are a private company, you a free to not promote someone else's bullshit.

    Give them time, sooner or later they'll build an algorithm that can cross check information on the fly and mark information as factual or possible false information. This has only become a real issue since the Orangutan took power.

      That's a hell of an insult to orangutans...

      That kind of judgement-based assessment capability would require intense processing power. Google indexes 60 trillion pages as of mid-2016, evaluating truthfulness of those pages every time a change is detected would require obscene amounts of CPU time, assuming Google even has enough hardware to have its truth analytics keep up with its crawler speed.

      It may well happen, but expect it more 'later' than 'sooner'.

    I thought google worked on hits or searches. Maybe it's up the top because people are searching for climate change deniers so they can then troll them and blackmail them into changing their mind. Happening every day of the week now. Fall in line or you will be told......

    Look, in this case the climate change denying article might be total bunk, but there should be no one arbiter of "truth". If google (or anyone else) is in charge of only showing things that are true, then we end up in a situation where what is "true" is only what they say is true, and if they don't say it's true, it must be false.
    This is terrible. You should be free to read the bunk articles and make up your own mind that they're bunk, otherwise nothing would ever be disproven and people's understanding of the world will never change. You'd be left with an "information dictatorship"

      "You should be free to read the bunk articles and make up your own mind that they're bunk, otherwise nothing would ever be disproven...and...You'd be left with an "information dictatorship"
      Yeah, i know what you're saying, we should all be free to read whatever garbage we like and we are all entitled to hold any moronic or anti-establishment opinion that makes us feel unique and special.
      But 'Top Stories' is active promotion of the stories there. The science of climate change isn't being decided by people reading about it on Google News (thankfully!) but by the scientists out there doing science, and they're the ones telling us that it's happening.

      So isn't it irresponsible for media outlets to continue the climate debate effectively on behalf of the vested interests who are publishing this misinformation?

      If I had to guess though i would say Top Stories is completely automated and humans only get involved if they need to. Apparently some changes were made in the past few months in response to fake news uproar.
      http://searchengineland.com/google-replaces-news-box-top-stories-desktop-264993

    The moment you start to accept that other people have different ideas and thoughts other than your own is when you see the world in a less polarized lens.

    The big problem is anyone who takes anything they read completely on face value... there should always be an element of considering the source and critically analysing what you read.

    problem is, it's hard to do that for some people either because they have never been taught the importance of this and given the skills to do so, or just lack the intellectual ability to do so.

    Hence taking info on Google, Facebook etc as sources of "facts", whereas these should just be viewed as information repositories. Google is like a public library, Facebook is listening to people down the pub.... you need to decide what's fact and what's fiction.

    Last edited 26/03/17 10:05 am

    This article displays the prevalent view that 'my opinion is right, yours is wrong, therefore you should shut up'. This is not the true scientific way. It is through constant questioning, research and experimentation. The 'consensus' view is the absolute worst for science as it precludes the possibility that the majority is wrong. If anyone doubts that, just look up Galileo Galilei and read all about it. I am happy to hear any arguments about anything, as I believe that I am able to make up my own mind. If others (the consensus) make up my mind for me, that means I am forced to trust them - and would you want to do that?

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now