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Don’t get me wrong, I love Google News – I probably visit it at least 3-4 times a day. For the most part, it seems to do a good job of capturing whatever the major news stories of the day are, and presenting relevant and factual sources for these stories. Every now and again, however, the algorithm creating the front page just gets it wrong. I found this headline today:
Is it possible that Israel has considered an assassination plot against Iran’s leadership – sure, its possible. But this article comes from PressTV, which is basically the official Iranian government news source. This is the same ‘news source’ that has described Iranian protesters as “terrorists” and completely whitewashed the popular dissent against the recently rigged Iranian elections. Indeed, the very purpose of this allegation of Israeli and Iranian terrorist collaboration to kill Ahmadinejad is consistent with the overall strategy of the Iranian government – to distract the public by blaming Israel and labeling legitimate protesters as dangerous terrorists.
To me it’s not only striking that Google News somehow concluded that this news story was the most deserving of getting top placement for the section on Iran, but even that Google is including this as a “news source” at all. Google News now includes group blogs, press releases, and apparently totalitarian propaganda rags. This presents a dangerous situation, as the uninformed reader may be easily swayed to accept as truth what is nothing more than purposely false reports masquerading as honest “news”.
A few years ago, Google and Yahoo had a PR battle over who had more pages on the Internet indexed by their respective search engines. One would say they have three billion pages, and the next week the other would announce they had four billion. Ultimately, many commentators pointed out that the battle between the search giants should have been about “quality” rather than “quantity.” When I do a search for “paid search experts”, I want to see a list of the ten top SEM experts (including me, preferably . . .), I don’t care whether the total number of search results is 50,000 or 51,000. Who looks past the first two pages (20 results) anyway?
And so it goes with Google News. There’s definitely a range of news sources out there – some are written by professionals who follow strict editorial standards (New York Times, Washington Post), others are written by pundits who sometimes push the envelope of traditional journalistic acceptability (Valleywag, TechCrunch, Drudge Report), and some should be read with skepticism or outright distrust (PR Newswire, PressTV). Google News, it seems to me, has an obligation to differentiate amongst all of these sources. It’s dangerous to assume that readers can understand the difference between truth, opinion, and distortion.