Google has responded to claims that it rated InfoWars as a “low-to-medium” website on a reliability scale to limit its appearance in search results, blaming a vendor for doing so without their knowledge.
Lawyer and independent blogger/author Mike Cernovich released screenshots of emails on Monday that reportedly showed Google instructed contractors to “actively rate InfoWars as a low quality and untrusted site.” Analysis of an InfoWars article told contractors to be “mindful of where that article comes from” but that InfoWars is not an “outright false” website. It also noted that “even if the article represents a certain slant from a conspiracy-laden website, it would be hard to make the case” of it being completely fraudulent, although it still “may be ‘harmful’ in the larger… sense of the term.”
A response from Google to Business Insider claimed “it does not instruct quality raters how to grade specific websites,” but InfoWars was used as an example of a lower quality source by a vendor hired by Google to take charge of the aforementioned contractors. This information was then used to structure Google’s automated search algorithm and have it prioritize “higher rated, reliable information.”
Google’s representative insisted to Business Insider that quality raters must not grade individual websites, only to provide the algorithm with general rules in order to gain unbiased feedback. “In this instance, we have confirmed that a vendor we work with sent out more detailed instructions to some raters without our knowledge, which included references to specific sites,” the representative said.
“This is in conflict with the intent of our guidelines and the vendor has taken action to remove these references in their training module,” they explained. The algorithm in question was for Google’s main search engine, not Google News, which only features pre-approved, trustworthy publications hand-picked by special staff.
Earlier in the year, Google explained the process that contractors use to filter out information, with each of them using a 200-page guideline book to help them. Paul Haahr, a senior Google engineer, has said that the company is “explicitly avoiding” the term “fake news” because it is too vague. “Demonstrably inaccurate information, however, we want to target,” Haahr said.
Google has also recently teamed up with partisan fact-checkers Snope and Politifact for their new “Fact Check” feature on Google News, adding a label to contentious stories. News items now have a tag next to them with a summary of their credibility along with which organization rated them “true” or “false.” Breitbart has detailed why partisan websites such as Snopes and Politifact are unqualified to judge what constitutes “fake news.”