Google has proposed changing the way that they rank websites by putting the most factually correct websites at the top of search engine results instead of basing a significant amount of a website’s ranking by how many other sites link to it. According to Google, even sites that are filled with inaccuracies can rise to the top of search engine results if enough people link to it.
According to the details shared by New Scientist, a newly developed system would count the number of incorrect facts in a web page. The fewer the errors, the higher the Knowledge-Based Trust score. Whether something is true or false is determined by data in the Knowledge Vault, Google’s enormous store of Internet collected information, and websites like Freebase and Wikipedia.
Per the Washington Post, Google uses what are called knowledge triples, which compare subject, relationship and attribute. An example of this is Jennifer Lawrence, birthday, August 15 1990.
Before anyone starts panicking, this is something that Google may not ever implement. The information comes from a research paper, which Google publishes hundreds of every year, so changes to SEO are far from imminent.
Why this would be terrible in practice
In theory, this sounds like a great idea. Let’s be honest, there are tons of very factually challenged web pages that are at the top of search results and are basically home to conspiracy theories. However, the problem arises when you consider that determining what is and is not factually correct can be challenging, especially when you go beyond basics like people’s date of birth or what state a city is in.
Look at political arguments. Very often you’ll have two people arguing over a set of facts, and while people may even agree on the facts, they may disagree on how to interpret them. Whatever side Google comes down on, the other will likely accuse the search engine of being a shill for [insert party or movement here].
There’s also the issue of how “facts” change. A recent example of this are the U.S. government’s proposal to change food label requirements. For about two decades, the FDA urged people to avoid fatty foods and to eat a carb rich diet. New information indicates that it’s not the volume of fat but the type of fact that can contribute to weight gain. How quickly would Google shuffle link rankings around for a topic like this? And would correct web pages be penalized for “incorrect” information until Google caught up?
And then there are opinion based issues. Take Coke and Pepsi. Both would probably say that they have the best tasting carbonated beverage, and they may even both have studies and data that backs that up. Businesses and retail sites are going to have opinion based facts, so you’re going to run into problems unless you start using to different ranking methods, which is almost inevitably going to cause trouble.
Finally, I’m not entirely sure how you can have an Internet search engine using data from the Internet to determine if websites on the Internet are factually correct without running into some significant circular reasoning issues.