In the world of social media and online aggregation, the one thing that is most rare is truth. Every day I come across stories and posts that stretch the truth or obliterate it completely. I believe it’s a big part of why the trust in media in general has plummeted to historic lows.
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I know that when I come across a story or set of “facts” online, my first thought is to challenge it. As a career journalist, I want to check the source… and then question even what seems to be a credible source. The brilliance of the internet is that you can research just about anything you come across. The downside is you come across a lot of junk that sometimes makes it difficult to ferret out what is the truth.
We’ve all heard that the majority of Americans gets its news from Facebook. Yet, we know a ton of stuff there is just bogus. Facebook, despite being a significant source of news distribution, doesn’t see itself as a news company and feels little – if any – obligation to source material or verify information.
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Google, on the other hand, is at least making an effort to try to help people make informed decisions about the veracity of sources.
For more than seven years, Google News has been tagging news stories as Opinion, thereby helping users differentiate between fact-based reporting and opinion. It’s similar to how newspapers and TV stations labelled things as “Commentary” or “Editorial.”
Earlier this year, Google News added a Local Source tag to highlight local coverage of major news stories. That was a big step forward for local news organizations that often had better and more in-depth coverage of stories, but less audience. So an Associated Press re-write of a local news story, distributed broadly across a network, would almost always – if not always – show up higher in the list (or sometimes completely displace) the actual reporting done by the local journalists.
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Now, Google News is adding in what could be an important feature by adding a “Fact Check” tag for the top stories. It will provide links to what Google says are a variety of sources that have done fact checking on the trending story.
“We’re excited to see the growth of the Fact Check community and to shine a light on its efforts to divine fact from fiction, wisdom from spin.” – Richard Gingras, Head of Google News, writing on the Google blog on journalism.
Publishers that create fact-check content can help the effort by using the schema.org ClaimReview markup. Details are here.
I’m rooting for Google here and hoping Facebook adds something similar here, pushing people to the more credible sources. If for no other reason, it would mean one less email from my 70-year-old mother-in-law asking me “Is this true?”