With ‘Fact Check’ Label, Google News Risks Accusations of Partisan Bias

Google built its reputation by helping people sift through a deluge of information. Now it's trying to help them find the facts.

Just in time for Wednesday's final presidential debate, Google News will begin giving fact-check-style articles -- the kind that aim to validate or debunk statements made by a candidate or elected official -- a specific label, with similar ones highlighting in-depth stories or local coverage of major events.

It's a move that could help ensure Google News remains a vital resource for political news -- but one that could also expose the tech giant to allegations of partisan bias.

Earlier this year, Facebook found itself mired in controversy when tech news site Gizmodo reported that former contractors who worked on the social network's "trending topics" feature suppressed stories about conservative topics and from conservative outlets.

No one accuses Google of bias when its search engine ranks news articles based on their relevancy to a user's query. So it's possible the Mountain View, Calif., firm won't face scrutiny when it applies a new filter to emphasize fact checks, said Robert Hernandez, a digital journalism professor at USC.

"They have always, through SEO [search engine optimization] given the ability to have the cream rise to the top," he said.

But Google may take criticism based on the publishers it deems eligible for its fact-check label.

To qualify, stories must have easily identifiable claims and conclusions, and the analysis must be "transparent about sources and methods, with citations and references to primary sources," according to Google. Headlines must indicate the story is a fact check and the code underlying the web page must include specific programming language so Google's algorithm can find it.

But there is some element of human judgment -- Google says the organization publishing the story must be nonpartisan with "transparent funding and affiliations" and can't...

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