Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Ministry of Truth?

There was an article in New Scientist about Google wanting to rank websites by truthfulness instead of popularity (which is sort of how it works now, although in truth it is a tad more complicated than that.  Keep in mind Google recently announced they also want to rank websites based on mobile friendliness as well.

First, in the interest of truth, New Scientist is a non-peer reviewed science weekly published in the UK.  Second, Google is attempting to address a real issue... if you're searching for truth a search engine isn't necessarily the way to go.  There is an entire industry based on boosting websites rankings (Search Engine Optimization) in results; search engine results are more about popularity than anything else.  Do a search for vaccines and pro and con websites seem to get equal billing.  Very democratic but then democracy also has nothing to do with truth.

The described proposal is to cross-reference web site information against the Google Knowledge Vault to fact check information to influence rankings.  This is pretty cut and dried when it comes to how many inches are in a meter, somewhat less so when you're talking about whether a politician cheated on his wife. So the question the becomes who gets to decide what is true and what is not?

There is no doubt that search engines serve as powerful tool in the shaping of public opinion, what people see when Googling Scott Walker or Elizabeth Warren can influence millions and possibly the outcome of elections.  This is no different than the power once wielded by the great newspapers of the past, but then theoretically there was a journalistic code of ethics, are programmers and software geeks bound under any such code? Should they be?

There are dangers and benefits both present in such a proposal, what do you think?

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