Image Source: Google
How about a deal? We spread the misinformation and get the profits.
Well, Google is doing exactly that!
You and I know that Google is a go-to website for everyone for anything be it looking through a website to choose a handbag or to know the latest updates regarding COVID-19. Google has it all! But the thing is these search engines also spread misinformation. Search engines work in a way similar to social media algorithms in that they show results based on what others and you have clicked on previously. Sensational information always attracts attention from people and the blend of algorithms and human nature can cause the misinformation to spread.
The thing is these search engine companies keep a record of users and their online activities. These companies then sell this data through a real-time bidding process and make money out of it. Yeah, so that is another stream for making money in addition to selling advertisements. Most of the time, misinformation becomes common due to people’s desire for entertaining and sensational news. This also includes any information that confirms their perceptions or is already controversial.
Image Source: Google
Surprisingly, misinformation is likely to spread at a rapid pace as one study concluded that YouTube videos containing medically invalid information about diabetes receive more popularity. The ones containing valid medical information are less likely to get popular.
How Does the Search Engine Work?
Also called relevance feedback, a certain link is clicked, the search algorithm remembers the link, and that it is related to a particular search query. This allows the search engine to give higher preference to that link for future searches. Strong relevance feedback is generated when more people click on the same link and thus the link starts to appear high in the list of results for that search as well as related searches.
The Infamous ‘Fake’ Spiders
So back in 2018, Google searches surged regarding a “new deadly spider” after a post on Facebook claimed that the novel spider was found to have killed many people in different states. Top 100 search results from Google were analyzed during the first week and it was discovered that the story was false. HOWEVER, people who kept on looking up for more information related to it were potentially exposed to misinformation based on that single post!
So yeah this is where the search engine started its real work. As people kept on sharing and clicking on that misinformation, it became more common and started appearing at the top of results. The pattern became so vicious that people became less concerned about the truth of the matter and started believing whatever Google showed them!