The Google: A Real Newspaper Discovers Modern Research

December 4, 2016

I read “Google, Democracy and the Truth about Internet Search.” One more example of a person who thinks he or she is an excellent information hunter and gatherer. Let’s be candid. A hunter gatherer flailing away for 15 or so years using online research tools, libraries, and conversations with actual humans should be able to differentiate a bunny rabbit from a female wolf with baby wolves at her feet.

Natural selection works differently in the hunting and gathering world of online. The intrepid knowledge warrior can make basic mistakes, use assumptions without consequence, and accept whatever a FREE online service delivers. No natural selection operates.


A “real” journalist discovers the basics of online search’s power. Great insight, just 50 years from the time online search became available to this moment of insight in December 2017. Slow on the trigger or just clueless?

That’s scary. When the 21st century hunter gatherer seems to have an moment of inspiration and realizes that online services—particularly ad supported free services—crank out baloney, it’s frightening. The write up makes clear that a “real” journalist seems to have figured out that online outputs are not exactly the same as sitting at a table with several experts and discussing an issue. Online is not the same as going to a library and reading books and journal articles, thinking about what each source presents as actual factoids.

Here’s an example of the “understanding” one “real” journalist has about online information:

Google is knowledge. It’s where you go to find things out.

There you go. Reliance on one service to provide “knowledge.” From an ad supported. Free. Convenient. Ubiquitous. Online service.

Yep, that’s the way to keep track of “knowledge.”

In search of truth, the “real” journalist seeks out an “expert” in search. The expert, it seems to me, is a search engine optimization person who is also a “real” journalist. I highlighted this quote:

A few days later, I talk to Danny Sullivan, the founding editor of He’s been recommended to me by several academics as one of the most knowledgeable experts on search. Am I just being naive, I ask him? Should I have known this was out there? “No, you’re not being naive,” he says. “This is awful. It’s horrible. It’s the equivalent of going into a library and asking a librarian about Judaism and being handed 10 books of hate. Google is doing a horrible, horrible job of delivering answers here. It can and should do better.” He’s surprised too. “I thought they stopped offering autocomplete suggestions for religions in 2011.” And then he types “are women” into his own computer. “Good lord! That answer at the top. It’s a featured result. It’s called a “direct answer”. This is supposed to be indisputable. It’s Google’s highest endorsement.” That every women has some degree of prostitute in her? “Yes. This is Google’s algorithm going terribly wrong.”

The “real” journalist did not stop at the SEO expert. The author of the write up then tried to “speak” to Google. That’s a gold mine. The “real” journalist learned from the GOOG:

“Our search results are a reflection of the content across the web. This means that sometimes unpleasant portrayals of sensitive subject matter online can affect what search results appear for a given query. These results don’t reflect Google’s own opinions or beliefs – as a company, we strongly value a diversity of perspectives, ideas and cultures.”

There you go. An answer for a person not able to land a full time gig or a consulting contract with the Alphabet Google thing.

Image result for clueless motion picture

The write up stumbles into the world of “micro propaganda.” Yep, not a moment too soon for 2016. A brief look at Google’s DeepMind, an artificial intelligence acquisition learning by playing video games and processing information Autonomy-style digital information. Keep in mind that Autonomy benchmarks Bayesian, LaPlacian, and Markovian methods once these were declassified after World War II cooled off.

The write up concludes (sort of) with:

We are all points on that map. And our complicity, our credulity, being consumers not concerned citizens, is an essential part of that process. And what happens next is down to us. “I would say that everybody has been really naive and we need to reset ourselves to a much more cynical place and proceed on that basis,” is Rebecca MacKinnon’s advice. “There is no doubt that where we are now is a very bad place. But it’s we as a society who have jointly created this problem. And if we want to get to a better place, when it comes to having an information ecosystem that serves human rights and democracy instead of destroying it, we have to share responsibility for that.”

My suggestion is that the “real” journalist take a few minutes to learn about online systems developed by BAE Systems, IBM i2 Group, Palantir Technologies, and Google’s Recorded Future. There is online and then there is ONLINE.

The fact that a “real” journalist is just figuring out what “free” search means would be laughable if it were not a mirror of the cluelessness of most allegedly informed people. Put that in your SEO, Maltego-based search system. Online access is more than 50 years old and “real” research types are just now realizing that if content is not indexed, the information is not available. Once indexed, the content can be shaped by wrapper software to perform many tricks; for example, make certain that Dick Cheney results pop up in a government search engine, suggest one product before another, use software short cuts to deliver “good enough” results to keep costs down and margins high.

Ring, ring. That is a wake up call for one “real” journalist. SEO? Don’t get me started. I would prefer to talk about the opportunities weaponizing information continues to present. Just go back to using Google for knowledge.

Stephen E Arnold, December 5, 2016


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