A Google engineer once dubbed those nasty, lie-filled conspiracy theories that pop up from time to time “evil unicorns.” Now, they’ve begun cropping up higher and higher in searches after major news events based on a weakness in Google’s algorithm — the inability to tell fact from fiction.
“In an ideal world,” a Bloomberg Technology report notes, “Google’s search algorithm should force these fake, pernicious creatures so low in search results that they are buried deep in the web where few can find them.”
There’s only one problem — these “evil unicorns” are designed to come up as soon as massive news, like the Las Vegas attack on October 1, breaks.
“As soon as an event happens, everything is new,” search specialist Nate Dame told Bloomberg. “There’s no system for the algorithm to filter out truth and reality.”
As soon as the Vegas massacre occurred, there appeared to be a concerted effort to malign a man named Geary Danley who may have been married to Marilou Danley, the girlfriend of the actual attacker, Stephen Paddock. In the immediate aftermath of the shootings (in which, like most mass shooting and violent events, media gets a lot wrong), there was no declaration of Danley’s innocence, so instead, “in the absence of verified information, Google’s algorithms rewarded the lies.” Fake news, in the form of tweets, videos and posts, flooded the top of searches.
The same happened a month later, the report continued, in the Sutherland Springs church shooting just a month later as similar efforts were made to paint shooter Devin Kelley as “antifa” despite no corroborating evidence to support that assertion. Once again, those results were prominent in Google searches about him and the attack.
“The purveyors of misinformation are really using these methods to complicate our systems,” Pandu Nayak, a search senior executive at Google’s parent company Alphabet Inc., told Bloomberg.
“It wasn’t this huge problem,” he continued. “But we should have absolutely anticipated this, but didn’t.”
You can read more about Google’s evil unicorn problem — and their proposed solutions, which included hiring on of their biggest critics — via Bloomberg.