Google Is Not the Government, Nor My Mother
The sensational outrage over Lyndon Antcliff’s fake news story has officially reached a level that can now only be described as Utterly Ridiculous. Sparked by a comment by Matt Cutts over at Sphinn, Search Engine Land and others are now speculating that Google may or may not begin penalizing fake news stories that don’t contain any type of disclosure. Oh, goodness.
If you haven’t been following the story, here are the important nuggets: Lyndon Antcliff posted a fake news story on his client Money.co.uk’s Web site without labeling it as such. The satirical story was then picked up by several mainstream news channels, including Fox News, and received a serious amount of links and about a gazillion diggs. Proud of his accomplishment, Lyndon blogged about what had happened and his success (the post has since been removed).
Cue all hell breaking loose as search marketers come out from corners everywhere throwing rocks at Lyndon for manipulating the Internetz.
I’m going to openly state that I don’t agree with link bait at any cost. I don’t think that creating a fake news story in an attempt to get links is a smart business decision. I’m not going to get into the ethics of whether it’s right or wrong, because really, my opinion on that doesn’t matter to anyone but myself. I just don’t consider it an effective strategy in that I’d be really fearful of breaking the trust of your audience.
Even so, the idea that Google would suddenly start penalizing those who did is borderline ludicrous. It’s not Google’s job to be your mother and slap you on the wrist for telling a long tale, and any attempt at doing so would be completely unscalable and mind numbing. Google already has one unscalable nightmare with the paid links debacle. Do they really want to get into the battle of protecting the integrity of the Internet by only ranking “truthful” articles? What the heck is truth on the Internet anyway? Where do you draw that line? A search for [2008 president campaign] would bring up zero results.
Sure, it’s Google’s index and they have a right to take action against things that are “deceptive”, I just question whether or not the line should be drawn this close. I’ve seen link bait far more “deceptive” than what Lyndon offered up. And is something deceptive just because some people don’t pick up on the joke? Maybe we should ban April Fools day or other satirical news sites? Personally, I read Lyndon’s story when he Twittered it and giggled. I didn’t take the story as fact, but I can see how others may have had they only skimmed it. It’s certainly not Lyndon’s fault that Fox didn’t take the time to validate any of the sources or make an attempt to prove its truthfulness. Just like it’s not anyone else’s fault when someone reads a fake news story on April Fools Day and then blogs about it later as truth. You should have done your homework.
As someone with a journalism degree, I’m all for journalistic integrity and truth in reporting, but it’s not Google’s right/job/function to be that guide. If people want to “trick” users, then they’ll suffer the consequences on their own. When Google starts getting involved in determining what’s fact and what’s not, you’re just opening the door to a whole new world of problems. People twist the truth online every day. I’d argue that it’s what the Internet is based on — opinion, wild speculation, and gut instincts with no facts to base them on. When Google stops being objective and starts entering that grey area of judge and jury, that’s when people start getting nervous and paranoid. Just say no. [I'm going to devil's advocate and say that there is absolutely a place for Google to determine that completely made up stories do not belong in their News results. They're not Digg; lies do not become them.--Susan] Okay. I nominate you to read through Google News as it updates and pick out the fact from the fiction! Enjoy your slope.
Google, you worry about spam. Let the people worry about morality and their eternal souls.