Google is building a search engine for fact checks

BY DANIEL FUNKE · OCTOBER 2, 2018

 

Google wants to make it easier for people to find fact checks. To do that, the company is building another version of what it’s most known for: a search engine.

On Tuesday, the Google News Initiative launched the beta version of a tool that’s specifically for fact-checking content. The feature, which the company has been working on for months, uses the same signals as other Google products, such as Google News, to surface work from fact-checkers like Snopes and (Poynter-owned) PolitiFact.

“The goal here is to have fact-checking journalists have an easier job of locating all the work that fact-checkers have done on a specific topic,” said Cong Yu, a research scientist at Google. “For users, it’s if you want to know more about a certain topic.”

The product alpha launched about six months ago, when fact-checking organizations started using it and giving Google feedback.

Full Fact, a fact-checking charity based in the United Kingdom, was one of those organizations. While she didn’t test the fact-checking search engine directly, Mevan Babakar, Full Fact’s head of automated fact-checking, told Poynter in an email that, while the tool could be useful for collecting fact checks, it could also have unintended consequences.

“Fact checks become out of date — this isn't as big a problem when the opening times of your local store is out of date, but when it comes to political statements that may shape elections we have to treat it more urgently,” she said. "Mostly we all check claims, not necessarily trends. How do we stop this (from) being the place you go to better cherry-pick statistics that help shape a fraudulent narrative?”

Poynter reached out to eight other fact-checkers to get their thoughts on the search engine, but three declined to comment and five did not respond as of publication.

Fact Check Explorer
(Courtesy Maggie Shiels)


It isn’t the first search engine that Google has developed for one specific use. In mid-September, the company launched a beta dataset search that helps journalists surface relevant data for their stories.

And in addition to the fact-checking search engine, Google has also launched a form that improves upon the ClaimReview markup, which is essentially a few lines of code that fact-checkers add to their articles so that the platform’s crawlers can pick them up. Now, instead of going into the backend and manually adding code to each story, fact-checkers can simply fill out a form using their story URLs in the same panel as the search engine.