Google adds contextual fact checks for the search results of some images

Article Edited by | Jhon N |


Recognizing the role that misleadingly edited or out-of-context images play in seeding misinformation on the internet, Google is introducing fact-checking labels for certain Google image searches. The feature, available starting today, provides selected searches with a few lines of context, drawing on services provided by fact-checkers from third parties. Publishers themselves power the tool

The tool is powered by publishers themselves, who now can opt to tag images that have been fact-checked using ClaimReview, a method for publishers to communicate that an image has been verified to search engines.

"Photos and videos are an incredible way to help people understand what's going on in the world," wrote Harris Cohen, Google Product Manager, in a blog post announcing that feature. "But the power of visual media has its pitfalls, especially when questions are raised about the origin, authenticity, or context of an image."

Google has definitely got it right. In most major online conspiracy and viral misinformation cycles, recirculated images tend to pop-up, and many credulous internet users are content to believe what they can see - even if what they see has been edited or otherwise removed from its context.

Google provided the example in its announcement of "sharks swimming in street Houston," a query that pulls up a perennial viral image offender. A fact-check from PolitiFact appears beneath the original image of the same shark silhouette swimming in the ocean in the example search. The addition is just a few lines of text rather than anything more flashy, like a colorful label that could more clearly indicate that the content has a special status.

The labels will pop up on "results that come from independent, authoritative sources" that meet their standards, according to Google's announcement. The company notes that the inclusion of fact-checking tags will not raise the results of those searches. While more fact-checking and additional context is always a good thing, the new image fact-checking tool only reinforces the context from third-party sources already doing this fact-checking work instead of surfacing fact-checking on websites of low quality spreading misinformation.

Google appears content to rely on third parties for much of this kind of work instead of bringing it in-house, but the company has been testing a more aggressive, hands-on misinformation strategy for COVID-19. In March, Google began scrubbing false claims from the search results and pointing users in searches and on YouTube to verify public health information.

Despite running one of the world's most popular social websites, Google has largely steered clear of engaging in the most fractious current conversations about content moderation and misinformation, exemplified by President Trump 's ongoing standoff with his allies and social networks like Twitter and Facebook.

In recent weeks, those firms have signaled opposite strategies towards moderation, with Twitter making increasingly hands-on decisions about what violates its rules, while Facebook only intervenes in the most egregious cases. But even though Google mostly manages to stay above the fray, the company faces the same existential threat from political figures who seek to punish social media firms by revoking the legal protections that make their business possible.

Still, Google dipped its toes into that ongoing conflict last week, when the company confirmed that it had removed from its ad platform the right-wing website ZeroHedge for violating its rules against hate and discriminatory content. The company also issued a warning for similar violations on The Federalist, another far-right site.