Google announces US$300 million plan to curb fake news, support credible journalism

Google will help news publishers get more paid subscribers while stemming the flow of misinformation.
Google will help news publishers get more paid subscribers while stemming the flow of misinformation.PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK - Google News Initiative (GNI), a new suite of measures unveiled in New York on Tuesday (March 20), aims at elevating credible news for greater visibility online, empowering journalists through secure access to the Internet, and helping legitimate news organisations reach potential subscribers.

Google has committed to spending US$300 million (S$395 million) over three years on the GNI to “elevate and strengthen quality journalism, promote business models to drive sustainable growth and empower news organisations.”

The GNI is aimed at curbing online misinformation and disinformation, detecting “synthetic media” – like digitally altered photographs - and supporting information literacy programmes to “build a stronger future for journalism,” Mr Philipp Schindler, Google’s chief business officer and senior vice-president, told journalists at the launch.

“It’s becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish what’s true and what’s not online. Business models for journalism continue to change drastically," Mr Schindler said.

"The rapid evolution of technology is challenging all institutions, including the news industry, to keep pace. Our mission to build a more informed world is inherently tied to the reporting of journalists and news organisations.”

“Elevating quality journalism is crucial in our fight against misinformation,” Richard Gingras, vice-president of news at Google, told journalists. Search quality would be enhanced to factor in relevance and authoritativeness of sources. This would be particularly relevant in the case of breaking news which can be manipulated by bad actors, he said.

Separately in a blog post Mr Steve Grove, director of Google’s News Lab, wrote: “Google needs to do more than we’re already doing to help journalism grow. The pressures facing the news industry today are unprecedented, and tech companies and news organisations need to accelerate collaboration to make sure the future of quality journalism is a bright one.”

In addition to features on Google platforms to combat fake news, highlight relevant content from credible sources during elections and breaking news moments, and support credible publishers of news, Google has tweaked its algorithms to weight them towards credible sources.  

Among the data points that emerged from Google’s research, was that 82 per cent of middle school students could not distinguish sponsored content from real news, and 93 per cent of college students could not flag a lobbyist’s website as biased. Google is teaming up with the Poynter Institute, Stanford University and the Local Media Association to launch MediaWise, a US project designed to improve digital information literacy among young consumers.

 
 

A feature called Subscribe with Google, developed in consultation with 59 publishers, was described as “a way for people to easily subscribe to various news outlets, helping publishers engage readers across Google and the web.”

The mechanism makes it easier for readers to subscribe to journals which sign up for it, in part by using Google credentials to register. It will also help publishers identify potential subscribers.  

Also unveiled was an open-source tool called Outline that will allow news organisations to set up their own virtual private network (VPN) on a private server, which would protect their systems from DDOS (distributed denial of service) attacks and provide their journalists more secure access to the Internet.

Other tools include artificial intelligence systems to help publishers automate everyday newsroom tasks, including monitoring comments sections, and transcribing journalists’ taped interviews.  

“The commitments we’re making through the Google News Initiative demonstrates that news and quality journalism is a top priority for Google,” Mr Schindler said.

“We look forward to collaborating with the news industry to build a stronger future for journalism.”

Added Mr Steve Grove: “The future of our democracies, the future of our businesses, depends on this moment. We really owe it to our readers and people around the world to get this moment right.”