Google brings fake news fact-checking to search results

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(Bloomberg) -- First fact-checking came to Facebook Inc. Now it's coming to Google.

The world's largest search engine is rolling out a new feature that places "Fact Check" tags on snippets of articles in its News results. The Alphabet Inc. unit had already run limited tests. On Friday, it extended the capability to every listing in its News pages and massive search catalog.

This is the latest sign Google is responding to mounting pressure to police content it hosts online after criticism the company, and other internet firms, help spread misinformation.

Google isn't entirely giving up its usual hands-off approach: The company is letting others do the fact-checking. The approach is meant to legitimize or question claims online, Google said in a blog post. Checked search results list the name of the person or group making the assertion and the determination of the fact-checker.

Although Google is working with established fact-checking organizations, like PolitiFact and Snopes, it's also opening up the system to publishers including The Washington Post and The New York Times. In theory, media organizations could use the new feature to fact-check each other. Or publishers could give different verdicts on the veracity of the same article.

"These fact checks are not Google’s and are presented so people can make more informed judgments," Google said. "Even though differing conclusions may be presented, we think it’s still helpful for people to understand the degree of consensus around a particular claim and have clear information on which sources agree."

While any publisher can apply to add fact-check labels to content, Google search algorithms will determine whether they appear in results, a spokeswoman said.

The company plans to reserve the label for search results about addressable public claims of fact, rather than opinion. Publishers can write the labels that appear next to results. Examples include "True," "Mostly False," or "Pants on Fire!" (a favorite of PolitiFact).

Outcry over the influence of misinformation, or "fake news," began after the U.S Presidential election. Facebook, a leading driver of online traffic to publishers in the U.S., took the brunt of criticism. On Thursday, the company introduced new features in its flagship social network designed to show users how to detect false news. (Listen to Bloomberg's Decrypted podcast on how fake news blew up into a political crisis for Facebook.)

But Google has not been immune to scrutiny. Critics have pointed to several instances of inaccurate and misleading articles surfacing in search results. Such examples are particularly stark when Google delivers what it finds in the form of tiny snippets, a priority for the company in recent years.

"From our perspective, there should just be no situation where fake news gets distributed, so we are all for doing better here," Google Chief Executive Officer Sundar Pichai told BBC News shortly after the U.S. election.

Google is not paying publications or fact-checking organizations. A spokeswoman for Google said articles that used the new fact-check label would not be ranked differently in search results.

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