PSA: Google Results are NOT Always Accurate

Watchdog groups think Google may be a big part of the "fake news" problem

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Composite image by Anderson Graphics.

Abigail Smith, Staff Reporter

In San Francisco, Google watcher Danny Sullivan, a founding editor of the blog “Search Engine Land” is concerned about how the featured snippets (a small piece or brief explanation) of something that you search appears in a special box at the top of the list of results, and some of the answers can be really wrong.

Snippets are what Google calls “one true answer” but this is flawed because the answers are not always right, in fact a lot of the answers are definitely wrong while people still think they are right. One “answer” displayed on Sullivan’s blog claimed several US Presidents were members of the Ku Klux Klan. That isn’t something that can be verified or proven true, but if you only checked Google without looking into the source given, you might believe this.

Google’s “one true answer” even tells people how to cook things incorrectly.

Google said in an emailed statement to Sullivan “The snippets feature is an automatic and algorithmic match to the search query, and the content comes from third-party sites.” Users can report wrong information with a feedback button on the box in the bottom right hand corner.

Studies show 15% of searches show or come up with a snippet. Snippets have been giving wrong or weird answers for the past few years. It will be a bigger problem when more and more people rely on voice activated assistants like Google Home, Amazon Echo and more to get fast answers.

The real issue, as Warrior Ink has seen in our work, is that people often neglect to check the source, which IS given in the snippet box.  Clicking through to check is too much hassle for many Americans.

Sullivan thinks the snippet problems come from Google and Facebook for fake news during during the Presidential Campaign that will and did cause a lot of problems with a lot of people and the world.  But Google users assuming, or even blindly trusting, that the first thing that appears is automatically correct is part of that.

Sullivan and other observers think Google needs to fix this problem before it gets worse because it will in a matter of time.  Google isn’t necessarily in the business of fact checking, but when it presents certain things in special boxes or in bold type, users make the assumption that the “most popular” answer is the right one.

This is easily shown by Googling something like “how to spot Lizard People” and seeing the results.  In the top results are some really crazy sites, including some that are humor or satire sites.

Screenshot 3/20/17
Just because you can find something on Google, doesn’t mean it is real or true.

Remember readers, anyone with internet access can publish anything they want.