Following months of harsh criticism for displaying false information, specifically concerning the previous presidential election, Google and Facebook announced they will be placing an intense emphasis on filtering “low-quality” content. Google has already conducted similar measures for years towards personal health and finance related searches.
Google is altering the algorithm behind its search engine and setting new rules to encourage its 10,000-plus staff for assessing search results to flag web pages with questionable content. Facebook will be combating the problem by ridding the site of the millions of bot accounts which push false narratives, and is including its own fact checking features.
At face value this appears to be a productive endeavor. Wouldn’t society benefit from purging fake news? Censorship raises some important questions, however. Who decides what qualifies as low-quality content? What impact will this censorship have on the free flow of ideas? Is it possible for this to be abused in the future?
We must acknowledge a dangerous precedent is being set. When you reach as many people as Facebook and Google, there is a definite ability to push an agenda.
The conundrum is that Google and Facebook are private companies and, as such, have every right to follow through with these measures. It is ultimately up to the public and independent research groups to hold these companies accountable and ensure that the free flow of ideas will not be restricted.