Google showed misinformation about Texas shooter in search results

Timothy J. Seppala

In the wake of a national tragedy, Google's search results were once again peppered with misinformation and conspiracy theories. Searching for the Sutherland Springs, Texas shooter by name last night as the news came out, you'd see tweets from Info Wars editor at large Paul Joseph Watson and far-right Twitter account Stock Monster USA, Gizmodo reports. The Stock Monster tweet that was surfaced read "Sutherland Springs, Texas Killer Devin Patrick Kelley is being said to be a Radical Alt-Left Antifa member. - Lots of Facebook posts" with images of the shooter and a rifle attached, but without links to any sources.

Since the shooting occurred, publications including CBS and The Daily Beast have more or less disproven the false information regarding the perpetrator's motives and military history.

Google's official statement is as follows:

The search results appearing from Twitter, which surface based on our ranking algorithms, are changing second by second and represent a dynamic conversation that is going on in near real-time. For the queries in question, they are not the first results we show on the page. Instead, they appear after news sources, including our Top Stories carousel which we have been constantly updating. We'll continue to look at ways to improve how we rank tweets that appear in search.

Google's public liaison for search Danny Sullivan told Gizmodo that his employer is working so the Twitter module isn't populating false information and that it is curating the tweets versus just relaying them.

"On the one hand you might say, it would be great if we could show whatever Twitter's doing and it's not our fault, but that's not what's happening nor is that sort of something we want to reach for," he said. "The concern here is there is something on our search results page that needs to be improved. We want to improve it."

"We weren't happy that those tweets that people were pointing out to us were showing up that way... For whatever reason, those are getting there. It wasn't by intent, it wasn't by design and it wasn't something we're striving to keep."

The offending tweets were also accompanied by one from Denver news anchor Cheryl Preheim. Stock Monster's account is currently suspended, but Watson's is active.

Because the Twitter results in a Google search are updated as more tweets come in, searching for the shooter by name this morning comes back with posts from NYC Media Lab's Justin Hendrix and the Texas Department of Public Safety.

In the wake of last month's shooting in Las Vegas, Google searches briefly promoted a 4chan thread purporting that the perpetrator of that shooting was a member of an "anti-Trump army" based on his Facebook activity and page likes. At the time, Google issued a statement blaming its algorithm.

"Within hours, the 4chan story was algorithmically replaced by relevant results. This should not have appeared for any queries and we'll continue to make algorithmic improvements to prevent this from happening in the future."

The problem with saying it's the algorithm's fault is that Google (and Facebook and Twitter and and) has no one to blame for its algorithm but itself.

Gizmodo

  • This article originally appeared on Engadget.