Google says it is “thinking deeply” about improving its search results after learning that Holocaust deniers and others were successful in making their links rise to the top.
The company, a subsidiary of Alphabet, told the BBC that it is thinking about ways to improve its search results.
The focus on skewing Google’s algorithm comes as there’s more pressure on internet firms to do more to combat fake news and conspiracy theory sites. Given that many people get news and information from Google, the company’s algorithm is of particular focus. Last week, Facebook announced it was partnering with third-party fact checkers, including news organizations, to fight fake news.
In the U.S. and the United Kingdom, those searching for “Did the Holocaust happen?” received a top result linking to a website with the headline, “Top Ten Reasons why the Holocaust didn’t happen.” The site is run by Stormfront, a neo-Nazi white supremacist group.
Google changed the ranking for U.S. users. Now the link to the Holocaust denier is the second result, after an ad and three news stories about Google’s struggles with the issue.
But in the United Kingdom, the Holocaust denier’s site is still the top result, the BBC said.
The internet giant has struggled with its position that its algorithm is surfacing the best content on the web and those who are able to skew the algorithm:
This is a really challenging problem, and something we’re thinking deeply about in terms of how we can do a better job….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.
Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land wrote that it’s likely that Holocaust deniers and others are figuring out how to game Google’s system to bring their own results to the top of the search results.
The challenge for Google, he said, is to find a systemic fix, rather than just respond to one-off discoveries of misinformation:
It’s very easy to take a search here and there and demand Google change something and then the next day you find a different search and say, ‘why didn’t you fix that?’
The BBC also found that so-called “snippets,” short summaries of information that appear at the top of search results, also can be gamed.
Above: Google search page.