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Google apologises for unintentionally spreading fake news through search engine

Alphabet's search engine Google has responded to criticism that it is fails to weed out fake news through its featured snippets functionality

Google says it is working to remove misleading content from search results

Google has been accused of spreading fake news, such as reports that former US President Barack Obama is planning a coup, in its search results.

The problem lies in its ‘featured snippets’ functionality, which allows users to ask a question without leaving the search box and provides a short answer by taking information from across the web.  

For instance a user may ask “how many countries are in the world?”. Google’s search engine will provide a quick answer of 196 countries, citing website infoplease.com without the user having to click on a further link.

A version of the feature is also provided through the Google’s smart speaker device, Google Home.

However, the feature has been criticised of pulling inaccurate information from the internet and failing to recognise it as fake news.

Over the weekend, Google’s featured snippets was asked if Obama was planning a coup to which it pulled up a response from a website called Secrets of the Fed.  “According to details exposed in Western Centre for Journalism’s exclusive video, not only could Obama be in bed with the communist Chinese, but Obama may in fact be planning a communist coup d’état at the end of his term in 2016!”

Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) has since removed the search snippet but The Outline’s Adrianne Jeffries nas revealed a number of other inaccurate results including search snippets claiming that monosodium glutamate causes brain damage, Obama is the King of the US, and former US President Warren Harding was a member of the Ku Klux Klan.

Responding to the criticism, Google said: “Featured snippets in search provide an automatic and algorithmic match to a given search query, and the content comes from third-party sites. Unfortunately, there are instances when we feature a site with inappropriate or misleading content. When we are alerted to a featured snippet that violates our policies, we work quickly to remove them, which we have done in this instance. We apologise for any offense this may have caused.”

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