Internet death rumours: How Google could help

Google’s mission is to “make all the world’s information universally accessable”.

Rumours aren’t information. They are mis-information therefor Google should help us distinguish between the two. And a company with its size and clout could do this very simply.

As things stand, Google’s search algorithm picks up frequent search terms and gives them prominence, even returning them as suggestions before you’ve finished typing. For example if there was a sudden surge in people using Google to find out if I was dead, then after a short while, starting to type a  search for “Colin Kelly” would throw up the automatic suggestion “Colin Kelly Dead” alongside other frequent search terms associated with my name. You can see how this fuels the rumour.

People trust Google and it is often their first port of call on the internet. It is the place many people turn when they’ve heard rumour or misinformation on Twitter or Facebook, or even Wikipedia.  “What does Google say?” is, rightly or wrongly, many people’s response.

By returning the “xxxx dead” suggestion Google is actively contributing to the spread of rumour and misinformation. People spot made up nonsense on social networks and turn to Google for help. When they see the “xxxx dead” suggestion they of course proceed to click it which gives that search term EVEN MORE prominence on Google, making the whole thing worse. This is all based around common searches, remember there is NO actual website stating that “xxx” is dead, simply chatter on social media

If they simply removed all Google Instant suggestions that include the words “dead” Google could help clear this up. If someone actually is dead, then a simple search for their name should return a reputable website explaining this. There’s absolutely no need to include “dead” as a suggestion. They could fix this now and I believe it would go a long way to helping stop the spread of rumours which begin on social media.

Celebrities could also play their part by NOT paying tribute to dead people directly on social media but instead linking to a tribute on their official website. This will stop fake celebrity accounts helping to give death rumours credibility.

And the rest of us need to stop behaving like sheep and realise no friend or family member with any sense would announce a death purely via social media. For things of this nature there will be a more appropriate source. Don’t give the rumour any credence or response until you’ve seen it.

It annoys me when a tiny minority give social media a bad name and I believe there are simple mechanisms which could be put in place to improve things for everyone.


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