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Google Responds On Skewed Holocaust Search Results (bbc.com) 332

Google says it is "thinking deeply" about ways to improve search, after criticism over how some results -- including ones discussing the Holocaust -- were ranked. From a report on BBC: Searching for "did the Holocaust happen?" returned a top result that claimed it did not, as Guardian journalist Carole Cadwalladr reported. Now, the ranking has changed for US users. The page -- from white supremacist site Stormfront -- remains top in the UK. "This is a really challenging problem, and something we're thinking deeply about in terms of how we can do a better job," said a Google spokesman. "Search is a reflection of the content that exists on the web. The fact that hate sites may appear in search results in no way means that Google endorses these views."
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Google Responds On Skewed Holocaust Search Results

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  • Seems fine (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Seems fine to me. Don't hide shit, everything is working as intended.

    • Re:Seems fine (Score:5, Interesting)

      by beelsebob ( 529313 ) on Tuesday December 20, 2016 @11:28AM (#53522123)

      The issue isn't with showing the result, it's with the ordering of the results. You would hope that more trustworthy results are ordered above less trustworthy ones.

      • Unfortunately the Neonazis have figured out the old "Google famous French military victories dude" trick. Are Google supposed to start censoring people now or just change their whole business model?
      • Re:Seems fine (Score:5, Insightful)

        by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Tuesday December 20, 2016 @11:39AM (#53522273) Homepage Journal

        You would hope that more trustworthy results are ordered above less trustworthy ones.

        The issue is how Google can measure trustworthiness. While the precise details of PageRank continue to be an ever-evolving secret, there are certain clearly stated ways to raise it. If you develop more content which is linked to by more sites, then your rank will rise. By now it is probable that the heuristics are clever enough to figure out whether a link is being cited positively or authoritatively, or the converse. Due to echo chambers and Dunning-Krueger, it's easily possible for this scheme to automatically result in such sites becoming highly ranked as a bunch of ignorant neo-Nazi shitheels jerk one another off in a sticky downward spiral of arrogance and hate.

        What can Google actually do about it without exposing themselves to litigation in the future, though? If they outright flag sites as being hate sites, they might have to defend that decision in court in the future, and they then land in an extremely unenviable position — having to argue either that they are not influential, or that it's acceptable to wield their influence to diminish unpopular ideas.

        Ideally, you'd base rank on the proper use of spelling, grammar, and punctuation in the comments left by regular visitors who praise the content, but that's too easy to game...

        • I'd say that ideally you would make an AI that can start to reason about reliability and the like, but it seems like every time Microsoft, Google, or some other company puts one out on the internet, it gets bombarded by trolls from 4chan that try to turn it into something that might even make Hitler blush.
        • Re:Seems fine (Score:4, Interesting)

          by swillden ( 191260 ) <shawn-ds@willden.org> on Tuesday December 20, 2016 @12:33PM (#53522853) Homepage Journal

          Due to echo chambers and Dunning-Krueger, it's easily possible for this scheme to automatically result in such sites becoming highly ranked as a bunch of ignorant neo-Nazi shitheels jerk one another off in a sticky downward spiral of arrogance and hate.

          This is true, but I think it understates the problem.

          It's not just that fringe viewpoints are likely to generate lots of interlinked content, it's that they generate more content, period. Of all of the articles on the web that directly address the question "Did the Holocaust happen?" what percentage of them take the affirmative position? And how widely-linked are they? It's very low, because on this question the world is basically divided into two camps, one which knows that it did and doesn't see any need to argue the case, and one that believes it didn't and is highly motivated to prove that position precisely because it is not accepted by the vast majority. Although the former camp is dramatically larger, the latter is dramatically more prolific regarding the question. The more extreme the fringe viewpoint the more likely this is to happen, as long as there's a community dedicated to churning out support for it.

          Of course, when you widen the scope to include all content that references the Holocaust, the mainstream view is overwhelmingly represented... but hardly any of that content addresses this specific question.

          Ideally, search ranking on questions like this should consider the fact that the overwhelming content of articles that reference the topic assume the mainstream view, and then ranks content that takes the mainstream view over content that takes the fringe view, even though the mainstream view content may not seem to address the question directly. For example, in this case it would be good to give the top slot to the web site of one of the excellent Holocaust museums, which clearly provide a tremendous amount of evidence to support the reality of the event. The problem is that doing this in the general case almost requires that the search engine actually understand the question and the mainstream and fringe theories, and search engines simply aren't yet that smart.

          This is an easy problem for a human, but a hard one for current AI. Because Google et al don't want to try to hand-tune responses to lots of questions, they want to find ways to get the AI to give the right answer. The average user of a search engine, though, doesn't understand that their question falls into a sort of "search uncanny valley" where the AI is smart enough to give highly on-topic responses, but not smart enough to understand that those responses are from crackpots. Instead they just see that "Google says the Holocaust didn't happen!".

          • Re:Seems fine (Score:4, Interesting)

            by meta-monkey ( 321000 ) on Tuesday December 20, 2016 @01:20PM (#53523353) Journal

            It's not just that fringe viewpoints are likely to generate lots of interlinked content, it's that they generate more content, period.

            My four year old son and I were talking about the moon, and he was shocked to learn people had been there. I wanted to show him the moon landing, so I went to youtube. But when you search "moon landing" you get the official footage and then pages and pages of "MOON LANDING HOAX" results. If you just went by the volume of material one would conclude the moon landing must be faked.

      • by arth1 ( 260657 )

        The issue isn't with showing the result, it's with the ordering of the results. You would hope that more trustworthy results are ordered above less trustworthy ones.

        No, the issue is with the question. Asking whether the holocaust occurred is not going to find a lot of answers defending that position, because it's not something that's in doubt except by kooks. It's like asking "can water be used for fuel?" or "was the moon landing a hoax?" and be surprised that you get results for sites that go against common wisdom.

        Ask "what was holocaust?" or just "holocaust" and you'll get far better answers.

        • It's like asking "can water be used for fuel?" or "was the moon landing a hoax?" and be surprised that you get results for sites that go against common wisdom.

          Go to youtube and search "moon landing." Tell me what you find.

      • The search is working as intended. The only problem people have is because this is a sensitive topic. Anyone performing a search questioning this topic will more than likely be interested in the sites questioning this topic. The fact that such sites are kooky by their very nature is irrelevant.
  • by aicrules ( 819392 ) on Tuesday December 20, 2016 @11:28AM (#53522137)
    You the reader must take responsibility for deciding what is real and what isn't on the internets. Do not require that anyone do that for you otherwise they eventually will when you don't want them to. If you need a warning label to avoid suffocating yourself on the plastic bag that is the world wide web then just turn around and walk away from whatever device you're using to access it.
    • by jabuzz ( 182671 )

      I think I have a reasonable expectation that ranking of search results should be based in some part on whether the site is telling the truth or a pack of lies. Otherwise the value of the search results rapidly diminish.

      In this case as the Holocaust is an extremely well documented verifiable fact including hundreds of personal testimonies by people on both sides of the crime, then ranking a site first which denies the crime took place is in the vast majority of peoples mind a problem.

      In various parts of the

      • It shouldn't get Google into hot water. And asking if the holocaust happened is different than just searching for the holocaust. A site that denies it happened is a perfectly legitimate result for someone searching out the question. If you're asking a question and just go with the first result as the answer, you are the problem. Google does an insanely good job at bringing RELEVANT results back to almost anything you can search for. This result was relevant. Based on their ranking criteria it happene
    • And what of those people who lack the mental acuity to make such distinctions? Should we provide no guidance to children or to persons who have never been exposed to enlightenment thinking? Someone who has been steeped in Neo-Nazi thinking their entire lives might not find anything objectionable at Stormfront. Conservative Christians really don't understand evolution or scientific principles, subscribing instead to easily debunked myths and magical thinking. Should we just let it slide, or should we take so
      • I provide guidance to my children. Because I'll be damned if I'm going to leave that up to a hate filled website OR a pretend altruistic entity like Google to teach them. Yes, my answer is let the fools figure it out for themselves. That's better than the alternative where we're all fools of Google or someone else's design.
      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        And who will watch the people who tweak the search results to tell "the truth"? Who gets to arbitrate? Will they black hole the global warming deniers or promote them to the top? Is Snowden a hero or a villain? Do you want Google to decide that for you?

        You may say they should only step in when the truth is certain, but remember, people have odd ideas about what that may be. To the fundamentalist, creation is so obviously true even the evolutionists must know it in their hearts and choose to lie.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Actually it is Google's responsibility in this case. If you read TFA (I know...) it seems that people have been deliberately trying to force denial sites to the top of the rankings using common SEO tricks. Google is constantly trying to fight spammers and people who subvert its algorithms, because Google's stated aim is to be like the computer on Star Trek - a natural language interface to the totality of human knowledge.

      Since holocaust denial is not the mainstream view or the one held by most historians, a

      • There are a lot of people behind the holocaust denier movement. If there is something general about Google's algorithm that they need to fix from this apparent abuse, that's fine. But I just don't need Google making changes specifically for this reason. If they improve their search algorithm to get more relevant results, I approve. If they change their search algorithm to suppress a viewpoint, I disapprove.
        • And just to be clear, though I've stated so in other replies, I am not a holocaust denier. The holocaust happened, and it was horrific.
    • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Tuesday December 20, 2016 @12:44PM (#53522981)

      You the reader must take responsibility for deciding what is real and what isn't on the internets.

      People are incredibly bad at doing this. If you need an example I refer you to The Bible. People have been mistaking that tome of mostly fictional stories as reality for centuries. You think they are going to stop being credulous just because somebody tells them a tall tale on the internet? Not likely.

      Sometimes we need a responsible party to stand up and tell the facts. No reason Google can't serve that role in a case like this. Arguably it would be irresponsible for them not to insist that their search engine provide actual true facts instead of made up bigotry.

      • Search engines shouldn't give a shit what they are indexing. Short of actual malicious websites that try to break your computer/device, just index and provide results. I do not EVER and will not EVER need a "responsible" party to get in between me and information, right or wrong. I'm sad so many people disagree with that, but if they want to only view whitewashed information, then that is there choice. But fuck you and anyone else who wants to make that choice for me.
        • I do not EVER and will not EVER need a "responsible" party to get in between me and information, right or wrong. I'm sad so many people disagree with that, but if they want to only view whitewashed information, then that is there choice.

          First, let me just note that Google IS already "getting in between you and information." You're accepting that its search ranking algorithms are a useful way of culling information for you, which means you're accepting the implicit "values" of that algorithm. E.g., sites that have more links often get ranked higher. By using a search engine, you're accepting that distortion of the raw data -- perhaps some folks want a search engine that will help them find stuff that is NOT so well-known or highly linked

        • Search engines shouldn't give a shit what they are indexing

          No but the people who design the algorithms definitely should. A search engine that returns false, misleading, or harmful results is worse than useless. Every search algorithm is simply a choice made by people about what to search for. If you want false "information" that's up to you but I want actual facts, not some asshole's version of truthiness.

          Short of actual malicious websites that try to break your computer/device, just index and provide results. I do not EVER and will not EVER need a "responsible" party to get in between me and information, right or wrong.

          Bullshit. You have responsible parties between you and information all the time. Scientists tell you how the world works. Engineers give you information ab

    • You the reader must take responsibility for deciding what is real and what isn't on the internets. Do not require that anyone do that for you otherwise they eventually will when you don't want them to. If you need a warning label to avoid suffocating yourself on the plastic bag that is the world wide web then just turn around and walk away from whatever device you're using to access it.

      I disagree, strongly.

      The problem is that the nature of search engines is that they tend to seriously overrate fringe viewpoints (because hardly anyone bothers to write articles supporting mainstream perspectives), but the average search engine user has no idea that this is the case. In addition, human psychology weights frequency of observation heavily when deciding what is true. This tendency can be overcome, but (a) it's really hard, (b) it requires people to train themselves to value statistical and ot

  • I believe Google that their search results reflect content (perhaps popular content) on the www. The worst part of the story is what this means for the state of content on the world wide web. We thought we would have an information panacea, instead we are ending up with a sewer.
  • by nimbius ( 983462 ) on Tuesday December 20, 2016 @11:37AM (#53522251) Homepage
    Google engineer: ok google, how many people were killed during the holocaust in world war two?
    Google: The holocaust was a fictitious event that was created in the diary of a bored gypsie
    google engineer: no google thats not true i think six million people were killed during...
    Google: six million is a fictitious account used by Jews who secretly control the world bank and regulate the filling in poptarts and twinkies from a secret mansion...
    google engineer: OMG google no.
  • If it's historically the most popular page people visit after entering that query, then the algorithm seems to be working as intended. It's not up to the operator of the search engine to censor a result that is legitimately returned by the engine (ie. page has not been hijacked or the popularity is the result of some automated SEO or other artificial skewing of the result) just because it makes people uncomfortable. I know, Google isn't the government, and they don't have to have any page on their site blah

    • by jabuzz ( 182671 )

      No they are looking to make truth in a web page a factor in it's ranking. So if I search for information on whether the Holocaust happened then the top ranked page should be one that acknowledges that the Holocaust happened (because it did) and not one full of lies.

      The Holocaust is within living memory, whether it took place is not up for debate.

    • But as the defacto gatekeeper to the internet (at least for millions of non-savvy users), they have a responsibility to stop with the "deep thinking" about how to "imrpove" the algorithm.

      "I appreciate the quashing of porn and viagra spam, but punishing racist conspiracy theory SEO is going too far!"

      These people are a parody of themselves.

  • Soooo disappointing.

    In other news, search engines find what other people put out there, and page-rank sorts according to the links to the content.

    • Won't somebody think of the Nazis!

      When it is SEO marketing scum getting punished for gaming the search engine, no bats an eye.

      When it is actual white supremacists get their page rank tweaked, all the supposedly not racist alt-righters lose their fucking minds.

      • by gweihir ( 88907 )

        The criticism is wrongly targeted: If it is legal to have these sites online, it is not the purpose of a search-engines to make any moral judgments or judgments as to truth. If it is illegal to have these sites online, then remove them. Anything else is exceptionally dangerous.

        Search-engine "optimization" is something different though. That is an attack on the workings of the search-engine.

  • Let's think about this differently.

    Don't get me wrong, we all know those results should be "correct."

    But remember, and this is the core discussion to be had, how do you know:

    1 - If any of your top results are correct? Should you really take Google's top position over your own critical thinking and compare-and-contrast of other articles?

    2 - If Google can "choose" what's correct, even with the most noble of intentions, then what's to say they won't do it for other--less noble--purposes? Now th

  • by Gravis Zero ( 934156 ) on Tuesday December 20, 2016 @11:54AM (#53522437)

    Google's stated goal has always been "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." Which in the past has always meant returning the results that people were looking for. They now face the problem of truthiness which has disproven the fundamental theory behind Google, that feedback loops from users selecting links will correctly identify which information should be returned. In short, Google has to figure out how to counter the self-delusion of the internet and it's users. It's no wonder they are thinking about it deeply because they are going to need create something like IBM's WATSON to sort reality from delusion.

    • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Tuesday December 20, 2016 @01:03PM (#53523209)
      This is the problem I've had with governments putting pressure on Google (and Facebook) to "remove" hate speech. Those two entities do not promote hate speech - they merely reflect what hate speech is already present in society. Forcing them to remove (hide) it is literally shooting the messenger. It doesn't solve the fundamental problem - the people who believe in and are spreading the hate speech are still out there and still spreading it. The garbage is still out there same as before; all you've done is ordered the carpenter to move your window so you can't see it from your living room anymore.

      Fixing this requires educating the population, teaching them history, exposing them to different people so they realize that others are not that different from themselves. But that requires work and effort. It seems governments would rather take the easy way out and try to cover up the problem, rather than actually fix it. Even if you think hate speech doesn't deserve free speech rights, the solution is to go after the websites and individuals promoting hate speech. Knock them off the web or suspend their accounts. Then they'll disappear from the Google results naturally. No need to mess with the ranking algorithms.
  • by sinij ( 911942 ) on Tuesday December 20, 2016 @11:59AM (#53522477)
    It is very clear that described problem is malfunction of search ranking algorithm, you don't fix it by making it impossible to find offending searches, you fix it by making it rank result appropriately.

    I am cynic and believe this is Google's plot to acclimate public to skewing the search results. Ad revenue is down, and they are not making any money from indexed search. So they plan to intentionally break your search algorithm. Highlight sensationalist results. Push for "curated results" as a solution. Then monetize all search results by charging for favorable decision, so Pepsi doesn't show as a top search result when googling for Coke.
    • It is very clear that described problem is malfunction of search ranking algorithm, you don't fix it by making it impossible to find offending searches, you fix it by making it rank result appropriately.

      And just how do you propose to create a "ranking algorithm" that fixes this? Granted, we don't know all the details of Google's ranking system, but we do know something about it [wikipedia.org]. We know Google depends on number and quality of links to pages to help determine the ranking and importance of pages.

      Any such system is not going to converge to "truth" -- it will converge to popularity. If Holocaust deniers become popular enough and share their information enough, any ranking system that depends on popularity

  • While I can not blame them for trying to make sure, truth about Holocaust trumps the lies about same, I can't help but wonder, what else they will (and already have) manually altered to better suit an agenda... Because truth may be a victim rather than a victor next time...

    • Exactly - when the government decides we have "always been at war with Eurasia," instead at war with "Eastasia," this version of the truth would then be listed at the top of the page rank.

      What we need is education about how to use Google as a tool to support critical thinking and the analysis of evidence. Not to just click on the top link and assume whatever is in there is "the answer." Maybe Google should focus more on educating its users about how their system works and how to evaluate the quality of in
  • I read comp.risk for the first time in years last week (an old Usenet fav), mainly to see what they had to say of the election tampering. One of the articles lashed out at Google and how they should be ashamed of themselves.

    If you search for the world is flat, Google will prove it is.

  • My thanks to:
    http://www.didtheholocausthapp... [didtheholo...happen.org]

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