People around the world entrust their health and lives to search engines when trying to find credible information about COVID-19. Therefore, it is extremely important to understand how reliable or unreliable the content they find is.
Oxford University conducted a study titled the Computational Propaganda Project. The results revealed that while widely used search engines claim to place more emphasis on the relevance of search results than on commercial interests, users usually find fake news. The distributors of articles filled with fake facts exploit the financial interests of search engine operators to make sure their content shows up first.
So why and how does this happen? Researchers used the following three questions to examine the role of search optimization processes in directing search traffic towards fake news and disinformation about COVID-19.
- How do the search engine optimization strategies of professional news sources compare to those of junk news and disinformation sources?
- In what ways do third-party websites enhance the online reputation of fake news and disinformation sources through COVID-19 backlinks?
- How and to what extent do major advertising platforms monetize fake news & disinformation around COVID-19?
They discovered that the most prominent fake news and disinformation sources have exceptionally high SEO levels. In other words, they are considerably better optimized for distribution among the everyday search engine and social media user than mainstream, credible news sources. Trusted websites inadvertently increase fake news and disinformation because ads for those sources appear as ads on their articles. In fact, 61 percent of fake news and disinformation sources use Google ads.
To combat dangerous disinformation, it is essential that search engines help ensure that credible sources appear first.
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