Should Google Flag Bogus Websites?


Fri, Feb 3rd, 2012 21:00 by capnasty NEWS

Evgeny Morozov, a visiting scholar at Stanford University, argues in this article on Slate magazine that it should be Google's responsibility to provide a quality control mechanism to help stop the spread of 9/11 denialism, anti-vaccine activism, and other fringe beliefs.

The second -- and not necessarily mutually exclusive -- option is to nudge search engines to take more responsibility for their index and exercise a heavier curatorial control in presenting search results for issues like "global warming" or "vaccination." Google already has a list of search queries that send most traffic to sites that trade in pseudoscience and conspiracy theories; why not treat them differently than normal queries? Thus, whenever users are presented with search results that are likely to send them to sites run by pseudoscientists or conspiracy theorists, Google may simply display a huge red banner asking users to exercise caution and check a previously generated list of authoritative resources before making up their minds.

Fortune's Dan Mitchell, however, thinks that asking search engines to "flag" sites that promote nutty conspiracy theories is a pretty nutty idea in itself. His counter-argument is pretty compelling:

There is a lot of garbage and nonsense on the Internet. There will always be a lot of garbage and nonsense on the Internet. And, thanks to our understandable wish to clean up garbage when we see it, there will always be misguided calls to do something about it.

And I particularly like this quote:

How is Google supposed to go about making such fine distinctions? And on a more basic level, since when is Google supposed to be in the business of deciding what is truth and what isn't? Even if it were technically possible, it's not Google's place to tell us that we shouldn't take seriously Jenny McCarthy and her anti-vaccine army, any more than it is Google's place to decide which sites are and are not engaged in digital piracy (again, it's not always clear).

Perhaps a simple checkmark, just like Twitter does, next to websites that are from credible institutions, like government and universities?



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