Google is building a search engine for fact checks


Google wants to make it easier for people to find fact checks. To do that, the company is building another version of what it’s most known for: a search engine.

On Tuesday, the Google News Initiative launched the beta version of a tool that’s specifically for fact-checking content. The feature, which the company has been working on for months, uses the same signals as other Google products, such as Google News, to surface work from fact-checkers like Snopes and (Poynter-owned) PolitiFact.

“The goal here is to have fact-checking journalists have an easier job of locating all the work that fact-checkers have done on a specific topic,” said Cong Yu, a research scientist at Google. “For users, it’s if you want to know more about a certain topic.”

The product alpha launched about six months ago, when fact-checking organizations started using it and giving Google feedback.

Full Fact, a fact-checking charity based in the United Kingdom, was one of those organizations. While she didn’t test the fact-checking search engine directly, Mevan Babakar, Full Fact’s head of automated fact-checking, told Poynter in an email that, while the tool could be useful for collecting fact checks, it could also have unintended consequences.

“Fact checks become out of date — this isn’t as big a problem when the opening times of your local store is out of date, but when it comes to political statements that may shape elections we have to treat it more urgently,” she said. “Mostly we all check claims, not necessarily trends. How do we stop this (from) being the place you go to better cherry-pick statistics that help shape a fraudulent narrative?”

Poynter reached out to eight other fact-checkers to get their thoughts on the search engine, but three declined to comment and five did not respond as of publication.

Fact Check Explorer
(Courtesy Maggie Shiels)

It isn’t the first search engine that Google has developed for one specific use. In mid-September, the company launched a beta dataset search that helps journalists surface relevant data for their stories.

And in addition to the fact-checking search engine, Google has also launched a form that improves upon the ClaimReview markup, which is essentially a few lines of code that fact-checkers add to their articles so that the platform’s crawlers can pick them up. Now, instead of going into the backend and manually adding code to each story, fact-checkers can simply fill out a form using their story URLs in the same panel as the search engine.

ClaimReview markup form
(Courtesy Maggie Shiels)

Google’s announcement about ClaimReview on Tuesday came at the same time as a similar one from the Duke Reporters’ Lab. (Disclosure: The Reporters’ Lab helps pay for the Global Fact-Checking Summit.)

In a press release, the Reporters’ Lab announced that it’s launching a global push (funded by a $200,000 grant from the Google News Initiative and involving the IFCN) to get more publishers to use the markup so search engines can highlight more fact checks. Only about half of the 156 fact-checking organizations the Reporters’ Lab has identified use the markup, according to the release.

“ClaimReview is one of the untold success stories of the fact-checking movement. It’s helping people find the facts in search results and helping fact-checkers increase their audience and impact,” said Bill Adair, director of the Reporters’ Lab, in the release. “We think of this project as ClaimReview 2.0.”

On Google’s side, for now, only a handful of fact-checkers and journalists can contribute to the new fact-checking tools, which Yu said is by design. Google wants to avoid disrupting fact-checkers’ workflows until elections in countries like Brazil wrap up, he said.

But in 2019, he hopes to make the feature available to the general public. By then, Yu said, it’s also possible that Google will add more signals to its algorithm to surface more fact checks in search. Currently, the company pulls fact checks from organizations that use either the Schema.org ClaimReview markup or Duke Reporters’ Lab’s Share the Facts widget and adhere to certain Google News criteria.

“Google has been working with the fact-checking community for a long time, and what we always wanted to do was be the technology enabler — that’s the general goal,” Yu said. “With that goal, we’re developing these fact check tools.”

Correction: This article originally stated that only work by signatories of the International Fact-Checking Network’s code of principles was being highlighted in this search engine. That is not accurate and has been corrected.

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