Fake News Still Going Strong, Despite Efforts by Google, Facebook

Nearly a year after Facebook and Google launched offensives against fake news, they're still inadvertently promoting it -- often at the worst possible times.

Online services designed to engross users aren't so easily retooled to promote greater accuracy, it turns out. Especially with online trolls, pranksters and more malicious types scheming to evade new controls as they're rolled out.

Fear and Falsity in Las Vegas

In the immediate aftermath of the Las Vegas shooting, Facebook's "Crisis Response" page for the attack featured a false article misidentifying the gunman and claiming he was a "far left loon." Google promoted a similarly erroneous item from the anonymous prankster site 4chan in its "Top Stories" results.

A day after the attack, a YouTube search on "Las Vegas shooting" yielded a conspiracy-theory video that claimed multiple shooters were involved in the attack as the fifth result. YouTube is owned by Google.

None of these stories were true. Police identified the sole shooter as Stephen Paddock, a Nevada man whose motive remains a mystery . The Oct. 1 attack on a music festival left 58 dead and hundreds wounded.

The companies quickly purged offending links and tweaked their algorithms to favor more authoritative sources. But their work is clearly incomplete -- a different Las Vegas conspiracy video was the eighth result displayed by YouTube in a search Monday.

Engagement First

Why do these highly automated services keep failing to separate truth from fiction? One big factor: most online services systems tend to emphasis posts that engage an audience -- exactly what a lot of fake news is specifically designed to do.

Facebook and Google get caught off guard "because their algorithms just look for signs of popularity and recency at first," without first checking to ensure relevance, says David Carroll, a professor of media design at the Parsons School of Design in New York.

That...

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