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Google pledges $300 million to clean up false news

Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., Sept. 12, 2017. At a time when tech companies have come under criticism for letting hoaxes bloom on their services, Google is pledging to spend $300 million over the next three years to combat the epidemic of false information on the internet and support authoritative journalism. Christie Hemm Klok for The New York Times
Google headquarters in Mountain View, Calif., Sept. 12, 2017. At a time when tech companies have come under criticism for letting hoaxes bloom on their services, Google is pledging to spend $300 million over the next three years to combat the epidemic of false information on the internet and support authoritative journalism. Christie Hemm Klok for The New York Times

Google pledges $300 million to clean up false news

In a move to combat the epidemic of false and unreliable information on the internet, Google is pledging to spend $300 million over the next three years to support authoritative journalism.

Google’s campaign, which was announced at an event in New York on Tuesday, will be known as the Google News Initiative. Among the initiative’s goals are making it easier for Google users to subscribe to news publications, and giving publishers new tools to create fast-loading mobile pages. The project is Google’s most ambitious attempt yet to improve the quality of information it shows to users at a time when tech companies have come under criticism for letting hoaxes and misinformation bloom on their services.

Philipp Schindler, Google’s chief business officer, said in a blog post the initiative was intended to signal the company’s “commitment to a news industry facing dramatic shifts in how journalism is created, consumed and paid for.”

As part of its efforts, Google is creating a Disinfo Lab in partnership with the Harvard Kennedy School’s First Draft, which will attempt to identify false news during critical breaking news situations. Google and YouTube, the video site owned by Google’s parent company, have been criticized for allowing conspiracy theories and unreliable partisan sources to filter to the top of search results for breaking news and for having failed to stop the spread of false news during the 2016 presidential race.

Richard Gingras, Google’s vice president of news products, said the company had built new tools, including some already in operation, to prevent malicious actors from gaming its search algorithms to spread disinformation. He pointed to the search results for the shooting at a Maryland high school earlier Tuesday. Unlike the search results for similar previous shootings, which surfaced stories from hoax websites and toxic message boards, the results on both Google and YouTube for topics related to the Maryland shooting were dominated by stories from legitimate mainstream publications.

“We want to make it easier for users to see the authoritative coverage up front,” Gingras said.

Google.org, Google’s nonprofit arm, also announced a $10 million media literacy project to help American teenagers learn skills to identify false news. The company said this program would involve using GIFs, memes, videos and YouTube celebrities “to respond to the spread of misinformation.”

Google also pledged to take on an emerging trend: “synthetic media,” a genre of photos and videos that are manipulated using artificial intelligence software. The most troublesome form has been “deepfakes,” ultrarealistic fake videos that swap one face onto another. Experts are concerned that these creations could poison the information landscape.

Google didn’t unveil any specific plans to address synthetic media but said it would release data sets to journalism organizations and researchers to help them develop tools to spot the fakes.

“This won’t solve the problem, but the more brains we put behind it, the more progress we can all make,” Gingras said.

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