Why Google News is adding a 'Fact Check' label

While pundits are in disagreement about the role the media should play in vetting politicians' statements, readers are bringing record traffic to fact-checking websites like Politifact.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP/File
Google's headquarters is seen in Mountain View, Calif., on Jan. 3, 2013. The search engine will begin flagging articles with a new 'Fact check' tag on Google News, the company announced Thursday.

Perhaps inspired by the "fact check" election, Google News is introducing a new label for stories that rigorously vet politicians' statements.

Google, whose News feature aggregates content from news sites around the world, already labels some types of articles, such as “In-Depth” and “Opinion” pieces. Earlier in the year, it added a “Local Source” tag to feature local coverage of major news events. Now, the website and app have a new category – “Fact Check” – that highlights stories assessing the veracity of statements by public figures.

The new category may be a response to the 2016 US presidential election, which has been heavy on fact-checking. Though some don't see the value in media fact-checking, the wild ride of the campaign appears to have bolstered many readers’ interest.

“Our traffic is better than it’s ever been,” Angie Drobnic Holan, editor in chief of the Pulitzer Prize-winning site PolitiFact.com, told The Christian Science Monitor in July. “Media organizations are doing fact-checking in part because it’s very popular with readers.”

In June, the Associated Press deployed no fewer than a dozen fact-checkers during a speech by Donald Trump that attacked Hillary Clinton. And websites like PolitiFact have been mainstays in the effort to find the truth amid the campaign rhetoric. During debates against Mr. Trump, former Secretary of State Clinton has repeatedly urged viewers to do their own fact checking.

PolitiFact’s scorecard finds that, of 292 Trump comments checked, 207 – or 70 percent – are less than "half true," with 17 percent receiving the harshest "Pants on Fire" rating. The organization has judged 270 Clinton statements, finding 27 percent less than "half true," and categorizing 6 (or 2 percent) as "Pants on Fire" falsehoods. 

Not everyone agrees with media fact checking. Jeffrey Lord, a former aide to President Reagan who offers a pro-Trump angle on the presidential election for CNN, has described media fact-checking as “elitist” and “out-of-touch.” He says the candidates are the best fact-checkers for each other because ordinary people are most interested in what Clinton and Trump have to say.

Others suggest that the truth of the candidates’ statements is less important to voters than the promise of action.

“[Voters] don’t hear a pledge, they hear, ‘I’m going to do something,’ ” Kathleen Hall Jamieson, the director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, told the Monitor. The Annenberg Center sponsored a focus group that found that, though few Republicans expected Trump to actually build a wall on the Mexican border, for instance, they supported him because they wanted to see action – and believed he did, too.

But for interested readers, the new tag will make it easier to find “fact-check” stories, if all goes according to plan. Websites can include content that alerts the Google algorithm to a “Fact Check” story. Eligible stories should contain the original claim, an assessment of the claim, and how that assessment was reached, Google says.

Of course, having a category for “Fact Check” stories doesn’t make any given story more likely to be accurate. Google is only aggregating the content, not providing a guarantee of its trustworthiness.

Fewer than 10 organizations used the ClaimReview schema at the time of writing, but this looks set to increase. The company is also taking feedback to help improve its algorithm and deliver content to readers.

Richard Gingras, the head of news at Google, said he hopes the new label will boost the work of fact-checkers and help readers find that kind of analysis.

“We’re excited to see the growth of the Fact Check Community and to shine a light on its efforts to divine fact from fiction, wisdom from spin,” he wrote in a Thursday blog post.

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