After a tentative launch in October 2016, Google has released its Fact Check feature in search results worldwide.
Google provided the following examples of Fact Check in action:
We can see clearly the format taken: What the claim is, who made the claim, and whether the claim is verified by a reputable source. Two early sources that are set to meet this standard, as shown in the screenshot above, are PolitiFact and Snopes.
There is also an option for users to provide feedback just below the listing, if they have any qualms about the veracity of the claims made.
This is an important point to note, as Google has explicitly stated that, “The entire process is conducted programmatically; human intervention only occurs when user feedback is filed.”
Will Fact Check show up next to all News stories?
No. The first step towards Fact Check showing up alongside your results is to add ClaimReview Schema.org tags to your page’s source code, as in the example below from Snopes:
A full list of the guidelines can be found on the Google Developers blog, but I have summarized some of the most important aspects below:
- Fact checks associated with news articles can be shown in either News results or the combined search results view; all other fact checks can appear only in combined search results view.
- A single page can host multiple ClaimReview elements, each for a separate claim. (This occurs frequently on Snopes, for example.)
- If different reviewers on the page check the same fact, you can include a separate ClaimReview element for each reviewer’s analysis.
- The page hosting the ClaimReview element must have at least a brief summary of the fact check and the evaluation, if not the full text.
- You should host a specific ClaimReview on only one page on your site. Do not repeat the same fact check on multiple pages, unless they are variations of the same page (Mobile and Desktop, for example.)
In essence, if your site makes a claim that you believe to be verifiable and true, add this markup and Google will take it into consideration.
Even with these tags applied accurately, it is still far from guaranteed that Fact Check will kick into action. There is another, more substantial, bar to clear before you can gain the Fact Check tag.
Which sites are eligible for Fact Check?
Google has stated that only publishers that are “algorithmically determined to be an authoritative source of information” will be eligible to display the tags.
This seems a little perplexing, if we dig just slightly beyond the surface.
Some publishers will undoubtedly welcome the opportunity to substantiate their claims, believing that their articles contain the truth, as in this mildly humorous example provided by Google:
But what of the hyperbolic news outlets that profiteer from making polemical – but clickable – claims?
Would they be so willing to add these tags and jeopardize their traffic volumes, should the results show their news to be false? This seems unlikely.
Therefore, would a site like PolitiFact have to reference those claims – and show them to be false – in order for the truth to surface in search results? This is essentially what PolitiFact and Snopes already endeavor to do, so it seems improbable that Fact Check will convert the unbelievers by dint of showing the same findings in Google results.
Accusations of bias have already been leveled at both PolitiFact and Snopes, so it seems we will all have to arrive at a universal definition of what a fact is before this takes hold across the political spectrum.
Moreover, Google has stated, “if a publisher or fact check claim does not meet [our] standards or honor [our] policies, we may, at our discretion, ignore that site’s markup.”
There will undoubtedly be some sites upset by their lack of inclusion, casting, as it does, serious aspersions on their reliability as a news provider.
Truth versus interpretation
Facebook recently tackled the same issue in a slightly different manner, by trying to educate its users on how to spot a false story.
Given the nature of both the Google and Facebook platforms, they are in a tricky position. Pressure has been applied at government level to push them into action over ‘fake news’, but with millions of pieces of content going live every minute, this is not a simple task.
Furthermore, is it the place of a technology company to decide on our behalf what is true or false?
Google is understandably cautious about this launch and made the following statement:
”These fact checks are not Google’s and are presented so people can make more informed judgements. 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.”
We can see here an attempt, echoing Facebook’s recent launch, to place some responsibility on users to “make informed judgements”.
Fact Check is a step in the right direction – but this is not a battle that Google can win on its own.
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Over the past 20 years, Google has revolutionized how we source information, how we buy products, and how advertisers sell those products to us. And yet, one fact remains stubbornly true: the shop-front for brands on Google is still the Search Engine Results Page (SERP).