29 May 2017

The Guardian: “Google, democracy and the truth about internet search”

They have created a web that is bleeding through on to our web. This isn’t a conspiracy. There isn’t one person who’s created this. It’s a vast system of hundreds of different sites that are using all the same tricks that all websites use. They’re sending out thousands of links to other sites and together this has created a vast satellite system of rightwing news and propaganda that has completely surrounded the mainstream media system.

He found 23,000 pages and 1.3m hyperlinks. And Facebook is just the amplification device. When you look at it in 3D, it actually looks like a virus. And Facebook was just one of the hosts for the virus that helps it spread faster. You can see the New York Times in there and the Washington Post and then you can see how there’s a vast, vast network surrounding them. The best way of describing it is as an ecosystem. This really goes way beyond individual sites or individual stories. What this map shows is the distribution network and you can see that it’s surrounding and actually choking the mainstream news ecosystem.

Like a cancer? Like an organism that is growing and getting stronger all the time.

Carole Cadwalladr

An investigation that started with some (horribly wrong) Google autocomplete queries goes on to uncover an entire network of rightwing propaganda that helped elect Donald Trump into office and push Brexit over the tipping point. While the main problem is that (too) many people believe and share this kind of stuff without a second thought, some responsibility needs to lie with the big tech companies who eroded main-stream media and promoted their own opaque algorithms as final arbiters of truth. Conveniently, they make a lot of money from their advertising networks and have been reluctant to even acknowledge the problem, let alone take measures to fix it. Google has come under pressure for featured snippets (or ‘One True Answers’) with inappropriate content, but they have been slow to address. And Facebook has tested several measures against fake news, but they seem to have the opposite effect. At this rate, the misinformation problems are only going to get worse.

Spatial map of the rightwing fake news ecosystem
A spatial map of the rightwing fake news ecosystem. Jonathan Albright, assistant professor of communications at Elon University, North Carolina, “scraped” 300 fake news sites (the dark shapes on this map) to reveal the 1.3m hyperlinks that connect them together and link them into the mainstream news ecosystem. Here, Albright shows it is a “vast satellite system of rightwing news and propaganda that has completely surrounded the mainstream media system”. Photograph: Jonathan Albright

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