Our Wired World

Fighting Fake News: Google Scrubs Coronavirus Misinformation on Search, YouTube

Even in a global crisis, scams emerge and flourish, creating confusion

Excerpts from a Bloomberg News article, Google Scrubs Coronavirus Misinformation on Search, YouTube, written by Mark Bergen and Gerrit De Vynck. Visit here to read the entire story.

On Feb. 28, questions about the coronavirus swirled around Google’s offices. The company was being criticized for YouTube’s handling of hoax videos, a major company conference was canceled and an employee in Zurich tested positive.

In the midst of this, Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai sent a memo reminding thousands of his workers about Google’s important role as a provider of timely and accurate information in uncertain times. “You’ve heard me talk about helpfulness in the context of moments big and small. This is one of those big moments,” he wrote. Since Covid-19 began to spread, Google has aggressively intervened in some of its most popular online services to limit the spread of misinformation. This is a departure for a company that has relied heavily on software and automation to index and rank information throughout its 22-year existence.

Google searches related to the virus now trigger an “SOS Alert,” with news from mainstream publications including National Public Radio, followed by information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization displayed prominently. In contrast, a recent search for “flu season” showed the website verywellhealth.com at the top, while another search for “flu” produced tweets, including one from U.S. President Donald Trump comparing coronavirus to the common flu.

Rumors & Misinformation

The coronavirus has killed more than 3,900 people out of 113,000 confirmed cases. Online platforms have been inundated with rumors and misinformed concerns about the pathogen as it spread west from Asia, particularly in floods of messages on Twitter, according to Carl Bergstrom, a professor at the University of Washington. Google is swept up in this because it has a deal with Twitter to show tweets in search results, especially for queries about live and recent events. “It’s really just a churning mess right now,” Bergstrom said.

On YouTube, Google’s video service, the company is trying to quickly remove videos claiming to prevent the virus in place of seeking medical treatment. And some apps related to the virus have been banned from the Google Play app store, prompting complaints from developers who say they just want to help. An Iranian government app built to keep track of infections was also removed from the Play Store, ZDNet reported.

Google has stepped in before, limiting ads on opioid treatment searches for instance. But it often moves slowly and only after many complaints. That approach is becoming less tenable as governments and regulators scrutinize the power of large internet platforms and closely monitor how they deal with misinformation. EU Commissioner Vera Jourova recently warned Google and Facebook Inc. to crack down on false information about the virus.

Read the full article here.