Helping science succeed
Helping science succeed

Paved with good intentions

Today’s Washington Post mentions a fascinating new study that—well—kind of blames Google for the spread of disinformation. From the study’s introduction:

“As the cost of producing and distributing information online has fallen and the sheer volume of information on the internet has risen, reliance on traditional gatekeepers has been substantially reduced, leaving search engines to fill the role of twenty-first-century gatekeepers by sorting and validating online content for the public8,9. In this new role, search engines have become influential in users’ political knowledge10 and public opinion9. A majority of internet users state that they check facts online that they come across at least once a day, and many believe that results from search engines are more reliable than traditional news, such as radio, newspapers or television11. The growing reliance on search engines for information verification has been encouraged by social media companies12, civil society organizations13 and government agencies14, all of which have invested in campaigns to encourage online users to research news they believe may be suspect through online search engines with the goal of reducing belief in misinformation.”

Unfortunately, this seemingly sensible advice appears to have backfired:

“The QAnon movement recommends that people “do the research” themselves42, which seems like a counter-intuitive strategy for a conspiracy-theory-oriented movement. However, our findings suggest that the strategy of pushing people to verify low-quality information online might paradoxically be even more effective at misinforming them. For those who wish to learn more, they risk falling into data voids—or informational spaces in which there is plenty of corroborating evidence from low-quality sources—when using online search engines, especially if they are doing ‘lazy searching’ by cutting and pasting a headline or URL.”

This study is a long read but if you’re into this topic, it’s definitely worth at least a quick skim.