×

It's not just a social media problem – how search engines spread misinformation

Search engines often serve up a distorting blend of information and misinformation. Crispin la valiente/Moment via Getty Images, CC BY-ND

It's not just a social media problem – how search engines spread misinformation

Search engines often serve up a distorting blend of information and misinformation. Crispin la valiente/Moment via Getty Images, CC BY-ND

It's not just a social media problem – how search engines spread misinformation

Search engines often serve up a distorting blend of information and misinformation. Crispin la valiente/Moment via Getty Images, CC BY-ND

It's not just a social media problem – how search engines spread misinformation

Search engines often serve up a distorting blend of information and misinformation. Crispin la valiente/Moment via Getty Images, CC BY-ND

Most online services, make money not only by selling ads, but also by tracking users and selling their data through real-time bidding on it.

Chirag Shah, University of Washington

Search engines are one of society’s primary gateways to information and people, but they are also conduits for misinformation. Similar to problematic social media algorithms, search engines learn to serve you what you and others have clicked on before. Because people are drawn to the sensational, this dance between algorithms and human nature can foster the spread of misinformation.

Search engine companies, like most online services, make money not only by selling ads, but also by tracking users and selling their data through real-time bidding on it. People are often led to misinformation by their desire for sensational and entertaining news as well as information that is either controversial or confirms their views. One study found that more popular YouTube videos about diabetes are less likely to have medically valid information than less popular videos on the subject, for instance.

Ad-driven search engines, like social media platforms, are designed to reward clicking on enticing links because it helps the search companies boost their business metrics. As a researcher who studies the search and recommendation systems, I and my colleagues show that this dangerous combination of corporate profit motive and individual susceptibility makes the problem difficult to fix.

Disagree with this article?
Create an Opposing View
Add Related Article