While most of us have been busy thinking about net neutrality, guess what Google has been doing. The leading search engine has decided to change the criteria it uses for ranking content on the internet, so that content will no longer be ranked by popularity, as it has been since the beginning. The new ranking system will instead use what it has determined to be ‘truth’ as its ranking tool. This Orwellian move opens the door for Google to homogenize thought and become the global arbiters of truth, with the ability to send content it declares as ‘untrue’ into the dustbin of obscurity.

The term ranking refers to the position at which a particular site appears in the results of a search engine query. A site or a web page is said to have a high ranking when it appears at or near the top of the list of results provided by a search. Under Google’s current set up, the higher the number of incoming links to a website or page, the higher the ranking. The content is considered too, but much of it is about popularity.

According to Hal Hodson writing for New Scientist:

“This system has brought us the search engine as we know it today, but the downside is that websites are full of misinformation that can rise up the rankings, if enough people link to them.”

Misinformation? A recently published paper from Google outlines how it’s going to take care of that, by giving each website or page a ‘truth score’ determined by counting the number of ‘incorrect facts’ on its pages. A website having few ‘false facts’ will be considered trustworthy and will be able to rise in the rankings. The score computed for each page will be known as its Knowledge-Based Trust score.

Google’s software will tap into its new Knowledge Vault, an automated data base currently being hailed as the largest store of knowledge in human history. The Knowledge Vault gathers and merges information from across the internet into a base of ‘facts’ about the world, and the people who live in it. These are facts the software agrees on and considers a proxy for truth, based on their being accepted as truth by the majority of people.

Websites that contain information contradictory to what is in the Knowledge Vault, known as ‘untruth,s’ will be kicked down to the bottom of the ranking, where few eyeballs venture to go.

As an example, let’s look at some possibilities for truth:

  • Possible truth #1: Vaccine makers are altruistic and have our best interests at heart. The vaccines they make are safe and lead to better overall health and longevity.
  • Possible truth #2: Vaccines are loaded with toxic chemicals, don’t work as advertised, and lead to ruined natural immunity and outbreaks of disease. They are made by greedy people.
  • Possible truth #3: There is some truth and some untruth in each of the other possibilities.

If the majority of people believe possible truth # 1, it will indeed become ‘truth’ at Google, and the website that sponsors this ‘truth’ will advance in the search rankings. And if the least number of people believe possible truth #2, the website carrying it will decline in the search rankings, and may be headed for obscurity at the bottom of the rankings list. The outcome of a website sponsoring possible truth #3 would probably be to maintain its current ranking position.

As of now, the Knowledge Vault has accumulated 2.8 billion ‘facts’. Of these, many million are rated as confident facts, meaning Google’s model gives them a more than 90 percent chance of being true. The Knowledge Vault cross-references new facts with what are already known, giving the system some fluidity.

The new system is not live and there have been no timelines announced for its implementation. As knowledge of this new ranking system spreads, concerns are sure to be raised. Whether or not the other search engines follow the lead of Google may be a determining factor.

This post originally appeared at Natural Society


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