Users of Google “must recalibrate their thinking on what Google is and how information is returned to them,” warns an Assistant Professor at the School of Information and Library Science at UNC-Chapel Hill.

In a new book titled The Propagandists’ Playbook, they’re warning that simple link-filled search results have been transformed by “Google’s latest desire to answer our questions for us, rather than requiring us to click on the returns.” The trouble starts when Google returns inaccurate answers “that often disrupt democratic participation, confirm unsubstantiated claims, and are easily manipulatable by people looking to spread falsehoods.” By adding all of these features, Google — as well as competitors such as DuckDuckGo and Bing, which also summarize content — has effectively changed the experience from an explorative search environment to a platform designed around verification, replacing a process that enables learning and investigation with one that is more like a fact-checking service…. The problem is, many rely on search engines to seek out information about more convoluted topics. And, as my research reveals, this shift can lead to incorrect returns… Worse yet, when errors like this happen, there is no mechanism whereby users who notice discrepancies can flag it for informational review….

The trouble is, many users still rely on Google to fact-check information, and doing so might strengthen their belief in false claims. This is not only because Google sometimes delivers misleading or incorrect information, but also because people I spoke with for my research believed that Google’s top search returns were “more important,” “more relevant,” and “more accurate,” and they trusted Google more than the news — they considered it to be a more objective source….

This leads to what I refer to in my book, The Propagandists’ Playbook, as the “IKEA effect of misinformation.” Business scholars have found that when consumers build their own merchandise, they value the product more than an already assembled item of similar quality — they feel more competent and therefore happier with their purchase. Conspiracy theorists and propagandists are drawing on the same strategy, providing a tangible, do-it-yourself quality to the information they provide. Independently conducting a search on a given topic makes audiences feel like they are engaging in an act of self-discovery when they are actually participating in a scavenger-hunt engineered by those spreading the lies….

Rather than assume that returns validate truth, we must apply the same scrutiny we’ve learned to have toward information on social media.
Another problem the article points out: “Googling the exact same phrase that you see on Twitter will likely return the same information you saw on Twitter.

“Just because it’s from a search engine doesn’t make it more reliable.”

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