Google Search: Facilitating Fantasy or Fact?

ronn torossian google

Will Later Search Engines Show Obama As Born In Kenya? Can Pepsi Say Coke Is Out Of Business and Search Engines Will Agree?

A long-term high-profile client of 5WPR called me recently. He told me he got engaged for the 1st time and is planning a holiday wedding.  He’s never been married – yet was mystified that on Google there’s a new info graph which refers to him as married.  He wanted it corrected – so we prepared a notarized letter from him stating he’s never been married, copied the 1st page of his tax returns saying so, and multiple recent news clippings referring to him as a bachelor – and sent it off to Google.

Google’s response:

“The data appearing in search results is derived from an algorithm that indexes content available on the Web and evaluates it based on hundreds of variables. Manual edits to search results are extremely rare. Google isn’t publishing information; we’re facilitating access to information that’s already on the Web. The problem is there is a news source who lists your client as having a spouse. I suggest contacting those publications and asking them to issue a correction. If they make a correction or remove the references, the right information should eventually get picked-up by our algorithms.”

Nearly 10 years ago a newspaper listed his then-girlfriend as his wife – and he never had it corrected – so, today search engines index him as married for the past 10 years, despite the fact that it was incorrect.  Even with all the documentation, and a statement from the ex-girlfriend we still have no movement on the story, and the newspaper in question won’t correct a 10 year old story.

It’s quite the catch-22 – If CNN says George Bush was a fascist, or Fox News says Obama was born in Kenya, will it then show up in their infographs? Can I create a blog post saying a competing PR firm is out of business and search graphs will show it as such? Scary catch 22 – Clear previous inaccurate media before online changes can happen.

While one can understand the logic in how search engines have to manage their search content, there is no reset button or easy fix in the years ahead. Public Relations and brand management will get even more important in years to come for online search reputation.

“The quack, the charlatan, the jingo, and the terrorist can flourish only where the public is deprived of independent access to information. But where all news comes at second-hand, where all testimony is uncertain, men cease to respond to truths and respond simply to opinions. The environment in which they act is not realities themselves but the pseudo-environment of reports, rumors, and guesses. The whole reference of thought comes to be what somebody asserts and not what actually is.”   –Walter Lippman, Liberty and the News

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  1. says

    Keen find….never thought about search engines this far.

    We are much too indulgent in being overwhelmed by information yet never had a chance to thought about misinformation which can be equally overwhelming in the IT age….

  2. Kristen Nicole says

    Some very interesting questions raised, and reiterates the era in which we live. Data management is going to become more and more of a service as algorithms dictate more of our knowledge-acquisition processes. The matter of whether or not Google is responsible for that interactivity is going to remain a debatable topic, even more so as time goes on.

  3. says

    Google says – Google knows :)
    From the start till now evolution of indexing growing times….
    So we will see in near future what we will have.

    Last 5-6 years, I enjoyed how information can be crawled fast, and how results can be presented same time.

    Now its other step – and next year we will see where we are going :)

  4. says

    I wonder what Edward Bernays would say about this? I’m of the mind that misinformation on the web should be corrected — but by people. While with a education company recently we were accused of being owned by Pearson when we were not. Though the poster of this inaccuracy was an agitator, when I reached out and corrected him, he fixed it. Then I dropped it quickly as he was trouble looking for a place to happen.

    When the algorthim finds misinformation it shouldn’t be scolded. Bad info, rumors and nonsense spread through neighborhoods across the globe. The algo shouldn’t be held to a higher standard than misinformed people. Ones and zeros are not sticks and stones.

    • Phil Butler says

      Hey Steve. Like you I wrestle with these questions too. It seems, and of course anyone can be wrong, that we have to control information or data at some point. I know censorship is a sore spot for most people, but the reverse is even worse when you think about it.

      Not being responsible? How is that an idea any business should consider? Just my take.


  5. Mihaela Butler says

    OK, Ronn, let’s paraphrase Google’s answer, to make it a bit more clear:

    “We want you to believe that the data appearing in search results is derived from an algorithm that indexes content available on the Web and evaluates it based on hundreds of variables. We are too lazy to do manual edits, because we don’t give a crap about what data appears in search, as long as it generates ROI for us. Google isn’t publishing information; is scraping information that’s already on the Web – and shows it as we consider fit. The problem is there is a news source who lists your client as having a spouse. Google doesn’t care if the information showed in search is incorrect, or how it may harm your client (or anyone for that matter). I suggest you do the work we should be doing to improve user experience in Google search: ask the publications to correct the information. If they make a correction or remove the references, we will still show the wrong information for months, because we are too busy feeding our Pandas.”

    • Phil Butler says

      Well, I don’t usually enter into the comments. But. Ronn has touched on something that touches millions of us – the old “fair and square” ideology. While I used to believe Sergey Brin was on the level with his “Do no evil” professions, how can his partner bang 100 million little publishers in the head, ignore everybody’s pleas, and go “full corporate monte” on us all – without everyone’s approval? Or is he vacationing in Antarctica again?

      Oh, don’t get me on a rant, please. For now, it pleases me to visualize Don Quijote – this time backed up by hordes of pissed off detractors of Google. Maybe that is vindictive on my part? But right is right in my book.


  6. says

    I always wonder how come it is any of us are surprised to learn corporations do what is in their best interests. Funny though, it may be more in Google’s interest to “de-index” articles that contain erroneous data. I mean, they say they want the best user experience, how does it help for this guy to be married twice?

  7. Larry Bussey says

    Hey Ronn, I can see your client’s point of view. I think it is in Google or any search company’s best interest to ensure accuracy, especially where potential harm can come. Like you illustrate, yelling “Fire” in a crowded auditorium should not be legal either.

  8. Richard Hals says

    Is this really the case or is it a 1 time occurance ? Indeed these are new rules and of interest.

  9. Theo Veenstra says

    This is connected to so many issues we’re facing these days. Like:
    -There are no fact-checkers on the internet
    -Human input (read: intelligence) has become less relevant
    -The simple fact that whatever a person publishes on the net (or has been published by others) is impossible to correct. Being called ‘married’ by Google might seem funny, but the implications could be not so funny. The rammifications of the way search engines (and Google in this case) treat “facts” on the internet are yet to be realised.
    What’s really worrying is that offical documents and verified statements of the person concerned are less important then what’s being published on the internet.

  10. says

    Google shirking responsibility yet again. When will they realize they have a duty to get things right? Considering how probably half of Google users never go beyond Google when they search their info (many are satisfied with Google’s ‘snippets and won’t click through to any website – that’s why Brazil’s media dropped them) the potential for abuse is quite alarming!

  11. Joey Adams says

    Very interesting article Mr. Ronn Torossian – I enjoyed the analogies but now am nervous. Concerning news but certainly fascinating.

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