I woke up this morning to two messages that I could not help but see two sides of the same coin: Brazil chose a person who looks very clear like a demagogue that brought social media to victory, and finally Google has posted a news feed on his mobile homepage.
These two things are of course unrelated. But after a weekend of learning about two local terrorists radicalized by social media, I could only wonder if Google wanted to release new algorithmic news feeds: "Hey Google, read the damn room."
We live in a time when we see real tragedies that are inspired every day by a form of atrocity in the social media. Sometimes we try to clearly define the causal relationships to these tragedies, but in the last few weeks it does not seem to be that hard. So it seems to be a pretty inappropriate time for Google to publish another news feed in front of millions (or billions) of people. It probably was not a time in 201
I apologize for using a question for the headline of this story, but I think it's fitting because now there are many more questions than answers. The question "Why now?" Probably best answered by all technology companies, because even though Google's newsfeed was announced in September, it can now be sent. But the more basic "why" is more difficult. Google, like Apple and Facebook and Twitter and all others, apparently wants to be really in the news aggregation game. That's probably because it's a pretty good way to get people to look at a website, and it's fundamental how Google makes money.
But the more pressing question is, "What does that mean?" Because, here too, the world's busiest website gets a news feed, so I think means something . And as far as I can tell, trying to figure out, "What does that mean?" Only for further questions.
I've been banging that drum for months, but again Google has posted a news feed on its massive homepage is one big thing: It could make the same mistakes Facebook and Twitter made with their feeds. It may not have social distribution, but it's still a big risk.
– Dieter Bohn (@backlon) October 29, 2018
Before I'll list them, here's a context. Facebook has faded as a traffic driver to news sites, but The Verge and others have seen traffic replaced by Google AMP, the company's new standard for fast-loading websites. With AMP, Google has become an even bigger traffic driver for news websites than before, as sites participating in AMP can appear in the carousel of feature stories displayed at the top of search results. Now these stories are also displayed on the mobile search page in the Google News feed. I suspect that this will also bring a tremendous amount of traffic.
This feed has been around for a while: In addition to the restarted Google News app, the feed is also in Google's mobile app and will be displayed on your screen. On the home screen, swipe left on many Android phones. These screens also drive traffic for news sites, but not nearly as much as the AMP search carousels, from what we can say.
The point of this whole context is that the news feed on the Google homepage is a big deal, I suppose will recharge an already existing trend: there will be a lot more traffic coming from Google's algorithmic feed, which means that there is much more incentive to play the algorithm.
Google, to his credit, has handled itself pretty well lately when it comes to responsibly presenting the news: The Google News app is curated, has many visual indicators that explain why you see something and small buttons that help you see less of it. But let's face it, Google takes on a huge responsibility by allowing machines to post news on what is perhaps the most popular website in the world.
* My * Google feed is benign. It's a set of sources that I mainly trust. What does the food look like for someone who has a much healthier diet?
With social news feeds, viral spreading of stories is a problem that shakes democracy, but we can usually see one thing b / c.
– Dieter Bohn (@backlon) October 29, 2018
So, will Google continue to be responsible for disseminating news? Will it increase our filter bubbles? Will it contribute to the radicalization of politics? Answering these questions will be devastatingly difficult, because although the Google News feed is driven by algorithms that make the same mistakes as Facebook's, it's not fundamentally social.
The news feed is, as the company sometimes likes to say If Google placed false information in its carousel, we could replicate the search queries and spot the problem. However, if Google's news feed presents false information on someone's search page, it's only the people who know it who are the person reading it and Google. Facebook News Feed is hard to replicate, but individual stories on Facebook have likes and share metrics displayed on them. There's really no way to measure what's happening to the Google News feed.
The mechanisms of who, what, when, and how important. Just ask for another algorithmic content feed from Google, YouTube. It's a haven for extremism and conspiracy, and YouTube is getting worse with next video suggestions that can quickly send you into a hideous, dark hole. I have not seen many reports where Google News had similar issues, but it's worth noting that Google does not have a good track record.
While we are doing literal postmortem about terrorist acts and elections that went awry, we are able to see many of the news that people post on various social networks and track their dissemination and popularity. They can count the likes and the retweets and graphically display the dissemination of information across platforms. Google's news offer does not run the risk of spreading false information virally, but it's also a black box. If there are problems, there is a very real chance that we will never experience.
Honestly, another question is whether Google will ever know. This is the case of advanced machine learning and AI: why the computer does what it does is not always understandable. Even if you imagine a scenario in which Google tells the world that it has displayed incorrect information in the newsfeed, it is possible that Google has no clear idea of why . 19659020] Also one last thing: from the point of view of a company, the purpose of a news feed is to place ads usually between the stories, right? This is the next shoe I drop.
– Dieter Bohn (@backlon) October 29, 2018
I have other questions. Being very online lately has been exhausting. Trying to curate the information you are taking is hard and increasingly difficult, and now we will all have another flow of information to curate.
Here is a very small example: I try to pay less attention to American football. My reasons are personal (concussions and NFL owners trying to suppress free speech), but it takes a while for Google to receive the message. It knows I was a big Viking fan, so it shows me results and flashbacks. I can click on the different buttons to tell Google that I'm not interested, but I have to admit that sometimes I still look. Now I'm worried that every tap, every scroll, every time I'm on a message, when I look through my phone, sends a wrong signal to Google. It literally makes me turn my phone to something I feel guilty about.
This is just football, and it's also the personal experience of a person who thinks a lot about these news feeds and is better informed than the average person about how and why they work. I have no idea what most people will think, experience and feel when they encounter another news feed. Probably nothing that is so exciting, but then who knows?
Maybe everything is fine. Maybe Google, pushing harder for news, will be a good thing on the whole. Maybe the company is sincere and serious about improving the quality and accuracy of the information we see online, and a news feed on its homepage is a strong counterweight to the trumps we get from other sources. (By the way, that's what Apple says it's made with Apple News.) Or maybe I'm thinking about it and nobody really goes to google dot com anymore, and that's no big deal.  That's a lot, maybe. The worst, perhaps, is that we may never know the answers to these questions.
Disclosure: My wife works for Oculus, a division of Facebook. You can read my Ethics Statement here .