Google says it is discontinuing its fact-check feature because it proved to be too faulty for public use, directly attributing the decision to an investigation by The Daily Caller News Foundation. The company has no date set for when it will return, if ever.
“We launched the reviewed claims feature at the end of last year as an experiment with the aim of helping people quickly learn more about news publications,” a spokeswoman for Google said, while also adding that The Daily Caller News Foundation was the catalyst for the recent move. “We said previously that we encountered challenges in our systems that maps fact checks to publishers, and on further examination it’s clear that we are unable to deliver the quality we’d like for users.”
There were two main problems with the fact-check widget, which appeared on the sidebar of Google’s search results for very few sites and publications.
First, the legitimate outlets chosen were virtually all ones with conservative audiences. The Daily Caller, for example, was given such treatment, while sites like Vox, Slate, The Huffington Post, Mother Jones, and several others clearly on the left side of the political spectrum were not.
Second, and perhaps most importantly, many of the fact checks were wrong. One of the purported reviewed claims was for an article that straightforwardly reported that yet another member of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigative team was a donor for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama.
Google attributed the fact check to The Washington Post, something its vice president of communications took issue with.
“We went back and double-checked the story and the information submitted to Google, and The Daily Caller was not mentioned at all, even in links,” The Washington Post’s Kristine Coratti said. “We clearly labeled the source, so I cannot speak to how The Daily Caller ended up being erroneously listed as the source of the fact-checked quote in this case.”
After days of back-and-forth with representatives at Google, The Daily Caller News Foundation was told it was probably due to the algorithms, something the company doesn’t talk about as a matter of internal policy.
Google removed that single purported fact check at the time of The Daily Caller News Foundation’s initial inquiries, but there were several others that were also false, if not all of them.
For instance, a “claim” attributed to The Daily Caller by Google’s feature and its third-party fact-checking partner Snopes was “a transgender woman raped a young girl in a women’s bathroom because bills were passed … ”
A quick read of the news piece shows there was no mention of a bill or any form of legislation. The story was merely a straightforward reporting of a disturbing incident originally reported on by a local outlet.
The whole program has been suspended for the foreseeable future as of Friday. Google engineers are reportedly heading back to the drawing boards to see how they can vastly improve a fact-check system, while it remains to be seen if the company will abandon the project altogether.
“As we continue to work on addressing this problem and assess how best to serve our users,” the Google spokeswoman continued, “we are putting the experiment on hold.”
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