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Eric Schmidt Says Google News Will 'Engineer' Russian Propaganda Out of the Feed (vice.com) 356

Justin Ling, writing for Motherboard: Eric Schmidt, Executive Chariman of Alphabet, says the company is working to ferret out Russian propaganda from Google News after facing criticism that Kremlin-owned media sites had been given plum placement on the search giant's news and advertising platforms. "We're well aware of this one, and we're working on detecting this kind of scenario you're describing and deranking those kinds of sites," Schmidt said, after being asked why the world's largest search company continued to classify the Russian sites as news. Schmidt, in an interview at the Halifax International Security Forum over the weekend, name-checked two state-owned enterprises. "It's basically RT and Sputnik," Schmidt added. "We're well aware and we're trying to engineer the systems to prevent it."
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Eric Schmidt Says Google News Will 'Engineer' Russian Propaganda Out of the Feed

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday November 20, 2017 @03:06PM (#55589551)
    There is nothing to "engineer" - this is just censorship.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      It's a news feed. Russian propaganda and fake news isn't news. It's a spam filter.

      Maybe you consider spam filtering to be censorship... I block ads too. Even Russian ones.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Almost every CNN story either leaves out pertinent information, uses anonymous sources, or fabricates facts that they later correct once it's off the front page.

        RT has more credibility at this point.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        RT does have quite a bit of flat-out Russian government propaganda, but mixed in there they also have some really good journalism every once in awhile. It's kind of like our news and the CIA paid articles and the like.

    • by mccrew ( 62494 ) on Monday November 20, 2017 @03:52PM (#55590027)

      There is nothing to "engineer" - this is just censorship.

      This is a correct observation. But it does get me thinking about some questions:

      1. As a private business, Google is in the business of data quality, that is, filtering out spam, link-farmed content, and so on. Is that censorship too? Or is that just maintaining data quality?
      2. As a private business - with no first amendment obligations, I might point out - what is their responsibility to facilitate distribution of intentional falsehoods?
      3. Does deliberate misinformation and propaganda merit the less / more / same weight as other factual content?
      4. A plurality of the average American voter have demonstrated their inability to detect fact from fiction, or even know how easily they are getting played by well funded enemy states that are plotting our demise. Isn't it in our national security interests to combat false data, which is individually hyper-tuned to punch the buttons of each mark's biases, fears, and beliefs?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        well funded enemy states that are plotting our demise.

        What demise? The US is by far the most powerful and least threatened country, with *huge* geopolitical margin of error, and seems to be doing quite well. Compare to Russia (or, say, Israel) who have to walk a tight rope. Russia is looking to survive and, to the degree their plotting made a difference, the last thing they needed was Hawkish Hillary at the helm. As did we, in my opinion, for that matter.

        As for the rest I agree, Google is a private company, and they are free to exercise their views what is rig

      • by Mashiki ( 184564 )

        or even know how easily they are getting played by well funded enemy states that are plotting our demise.

        Complete garbage and bullshit. The USSR can't even float the tonnage to be a threat to the US. Hell the USSR and China don't even come close. The US follows the same doctrine that military powers have for hundreds of years when they've been 'king of the world' have twice as much power as your next two nearest rivals. The only "form of demise" that either country could use to try something is an out-right first-fire nuclear launch. And they'd still lose.

        You're advocating censorship because you think it'

    • by presidenteloco ( 659168 ) on Monday November 20, 2017 @03:54PM (#55590041)

      It's machine learning algorithms being put to use here to filter and rank content.

      Eventually, such automated analysis should be based on general algorithms that use principles of:
      - epistemology - is there sound logical or plausible probabilistic support for the propositions in the content
      - utterance theory - analysis of the sources (direct and indirect) of the information, their goals, their communication strategies, the purpose behind each utterance in terms of opinion influence or action influence.
      - Detection of the level of "disinterest" that the utterer has in the content of the utterance and the opinions it will reinforce. The more disinterest (or counter-interest), the more credible is the utterance. "They said this even though it may hurt their interests" implies more likely true.
      - detection of systemic bias (in the utterance and more generally by the source)
      - detection of use of rhetorical tricks such as ad hominem attacks and many others.
      - social psychology theories (deeper into understanding use of techniques of opinion amplification, meme formation, influence principles used by advertisers etc)
      - Consistency with scientifically well-accepted facts and inferences, and with basic mathematics as applied to the content.

      The key is that with sufficient abstraction of rule creation, it should be possible to make all of this independent of censoring a particular country or political faction's content. The "good stuff" or "objectively more plausible and less biased stuff" should get through.

      If biased or less credible or "weaponized words" stuff is let through, it should be automatically commented on by the algorithms, which should point out the reasons for the assessment as not very reliable content.

    • If they're combating Russian propagandists attempts to game the ranking system. You do realize that folks going to Google for news aren't actually there for the Russian propaganda, they're there for news.
      • This hinges on two assumption:

        1)That there is such a thing as truly unbiased, neutral and objective news.
        2)That only one side (the Russians) are not following in delivering point 1 while 'we' are.

        Both premises are untrue.

        So the dichotomy you make between 'real news' (from google), and 'fake news / propaganda' (from the Russians) just isn't there. It's already a biased fabrication of your mind, even while you're railing against biased news yourself. the hardest bias to note is the one of yourself, after all.

  • by OffTheLip ( 636691 ) on Monday November 20, 2017 @03:07PM (#55589561)
    The new and improved Google News sucks. That should be Eric Schmidt's first order of business.
    • I switched to bing/news some time ago. Also sucks in various ways, but does not suck nearly as hard as google/news, which is just plain user-offensive.

  • It'd be nice if Google could also do something to certain other kinds of propaganda as well. Ones that promote racial and gender discrimination. James Damore did some research they can use.

  • "Engineer" means some automated way because we can't bother to curate the BS we are spewing out as it would cut into our money counting time.
  • In other news... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Baron_Yam ( 643147 ) on Monday November 20, 2017 @03:10PM (#55589591)

    Any serious Russian effort in future will be run through American proxies, leaving Google only one option - filter by opinion.

    The only way to really beat this domestically is education, so people aren't so easily influenced. Of course, you can back that up with counter-attacks and advise the foreign governments that so long as they're detected meddling in your affairs, you'll continue meddling in theirs.

    Ultimately the best you can hope for is that the cyber version of MAD evolves and the whole thing becomes a smaller problem as both sides generally choose not to inflame the situation in fear of having to deal with reprisals.

    • by BasilBrush ( 643681 ) on Monday November 20, 2017 @03:14PM (#55589635)

      Any policy that relies on "educating" the public is doomed to failure.

      • My previous policy of 'cull the stupid from the gene pool' was not met with open arms... ...and of course there's the problem that it probably isn't genetic but environmental anyway (or rather, the genetic problem exists throughout the species, but environment overcomes it in some).

        • The problem with "cull the stupid from the gene pool" is that it quickly reaches defining "the stupid" as "people who disagree with me"....
          • > it quickly reaches defining "the stupid" as "people who disagree with me"....

            Well... the original original plan was, in fact, "cull the people who disagree with me". So there's that.

            I'm constantly refining the approach.

    • Any serious Russian effort in future will be run through American proxies

      Good. If such an attempt is suspected, the authorities can raid the place, seize documentation, and shut them down. Much harder to do that when they are in Russia. It will probably be a lone individual but that is fine. What you are looking for is proof that they were working on behalf of Russia as this gives one leverage during future negotiations with Russia.

    • Let me tell you what the real problem is: The Internet itself. It's a clear case of 'too many people ruining a good thing'. When the Internet was a new thing, with few people using it, it started out to be a great thing. Then more people got involved, and it was still a great thing. To be fair, it's still a great thing -- in some ways. But now Too Many People are involved in it, it's been weaponized, subverted, twisted, distorted, and adulterated into something that is just overall a piece of shit. You've g
  • Yay! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by VeryFluffyBunny ( 5037285 ) on Monday November 20, 2017 @03:14PM (#55589639)

    Yay, corporate censorship! Down the memory hole! We're saved from the evil Russians.

    But how will this 'engineering' be held democratically accountable? Who has effective oversight? We're further handing the basis of our democracy, i.e. access to information, over the a tiny minority of billionaires who can manipulate it and therefore us in any way they choose. Oh hang on, haven't I just described the mainstream media?

    • But how will this 'engineering' be held democratically accountable?

      You're asuming though that the status quo is better than them engineering this.

      They already engineer the fuck out of search results because otherwise they'd be full of spam, linkfarms ans crappy blog posts. IOW they're already removing the crap which is hugely dominant.

      How do you know the present engineering is wors than what they're proposing?

      Oh hang on, haven't I just described the mainstream media?

      In a word: no.

  • by CrAlt ( 3208 ) on Monday November 20, 2017 @03:14PM (#55589643) Homepage Journal

    The best books are those that tell you what you already know.

  • by religionofpeas ( 4511805 ) on Monday November 20, 2017 @03:17PM (#55589675)

    Russian propaganda is easily recognized because it's written in Cyrillic !

  • If RT is out... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by alexandre ( 53 ) * on Monday November 20, 2017 @03:19PM (#55589687) Homepage Journal

    ... How is Fox still in?

  • Why just Russia? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by freak0fnature ( 1838248 ) on Monday November 20, 2017 @03:25PM (#55589745)
    Why not dump all propaganda? Why just block the Russian propaganda?
    • Why not dump all propaganda? Why just block the Russian propaganda?

      Because pretty much everything is propoganda. Propoganda doesn't mean "false news". It meas information intended to promote one's agenda, or to hinder someone else's. VOA (Voice of America) is propoganda. Radio Moscow, Russia Today, WAPO, NYT, all have agendas to promote and agendas to hinder.

  • by techno_dan ( 591398 ) on Monday November 20, 2017 @03:30PM (#55589789)
    Isn't it about time that they also block the largest driver of propaganda? The U.S.! American news site publish so much false news that favours the U.S., that they are much worse than the Russians. Apply the rules equally to all.
  • In Other Words: (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DatbeDank ( 4580343 ) on Monday November 20, 2017 @03:33PM (#55589817)

    "We're going to block news that HR and our Chief Diversity Officer find offensive."

    • by sinij ( 911942 )

      "We're going to block news that HR and our Chief Diversity Officer find offensive."

      Good post, too bad it isn't getting indexed by Google.

  • by kdekorte ( 8768 ) on Monday November 20, 2017 @03:45PM (#55589949)
    Or as the Russian's would say... ! (at least that is what Google tells me the translation is)
  • You don't ask Eric Schmidt. There's bad people on all sides.
  • by Tough Love ( 215404 ) on Monday November 20, 2017 @05:07PM (#55590647)

    What about Youtube, a notorious cesspool of belly crawling shitposters with a distinct odor of vodka, who regularly mob the comments section of videos that are even faintly critical of Trump or favorable to Trump's opponents.

  • by HermMunster ( 972336 ) on Monday November 20, 2017 @05:16PM (#55590733)

    Frankly, political views can and should be expressed by anyone, and read by anyone willing to listen.

    There's no way Google can engineer propaganda out. Propaganda is a subjective term.

    Literally this is the government trying to censor by proxy.

    This is bad as Google is a defacto monopoly. If the government does this it would be a violation of the constitution, and to proxy it to a defacto monopoly, that's not covered by the constitution, it leaves American citizens without recourse.

    I don't need Google to do this, I don't wish for anyone to tell me what I should or should not be reading. They are telling everyone that they are stupid and incapable of understanding the good and bad behind any given assertion.

  • The Russian contingent of Slashdot is going crazy! This cannot be allowed!

    Quick, to the Pizzagate truthers shield, BorisMan! It's gonna be a long night!

    No time for subtlety, we have to fall back on the absolutely no evidence ever level! And don't forget to mark me as a troll, have to earn your rubles, ya know.

    • >we have to fall back on the absolutely no evidence ever level!

      The problem isn't a lack of evidence, the problem is a lack of trust in the agencies telling us about it because in the past they've not only told lies, but actively manufactured them to serve their agendas. (And gotten caught at it, obviously)

      Of course, in the past those agendas were more or less in line with that of the White House.

      • >we have to fall back on the absolutely no evidence ever level!

        The problem isn't a lack of evidence, the problem is a lack of trust in the agencies telling us about it because in the past they've not only told lies, but actively manufactured them to serve their agendas. (And gotten caught at it, obviously)

        Of course, in the past those agendas were more or less in line with that of the White House.

        Trust? I catch flack in here sometimes because I listen to or watch NPR, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, and get ready for it - here's the one that make people's heads asplode - Breitbart. Even a foray or two on RT on Youtube.

        I don't trust anyone. But I want news. So I decide for myself who is telling the truth. It has a way of coming out.

        The problem is, in the world, there is a tremendous amount of newsworthy stuff going on. There is only so much time, and that means the very act of deciding what to report tips off

  • by knorthern knight ( 513660 ) on Monday November 20, 2017 @06:06PM (#55591099)

    Remember some years ago when Rick Santorum was running for the Republican nomination, and he got Google-bombed?
    http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/e... [huffingtonpost.ca]
    https://www.npr.org/2016/02/25... [npr.org]

    The lib-left thought it was hilarious, and guffawed a lot. When Rick Santorum complained, Google essentially said "not our problem".

    When it turns out that Google-fixing might have hurt Hillary Clinton's run for the presidency, things are totally different. The lib-left goes full-feminist "That's not funny". Google doesn't consider this to be "not our problem"; they're all over it like flies over shit.

    I guess it depends on who's ox is being gored. Guess which party Silicon Valley supports.

    • It's interesting how you managed to overlook the fundamental difference between the scenarios in order to justify your butthurt.

  • I like alternate views. I need to find an unbiased, uncensored search engine.
  • If the algorithm cannot follow broadly defined principles to filter out propaganda to include Russia propaganda, and needs intervention to specifically single out such a narrow domain for human tweaking, then you are broadcasting to the world not only that you're willing to depart from broad principles, but that the algorithm is lackluster as well.

    I can kind of predict what the excuse will be -- that this is an emergency situation, time is of the essence, and circumstances force us to depart from building a

    • by JustNiz ( 692889 )

      Actually they are demonstrating that by it not artificially filtering out information, their search engine algorithm is a actually better than their own very misguided social brainwashing agenda.

  • How about turning back on the feature which allows to exclude news sources from the feed? That would do it right away. RT is propaganda? What about Iranian "Press TV"? Or even BBC? I wouldn't trust BBC news on any British colony which stopped being a colony in the 20th century. The Brits never got over the losses. So if you read BBC, India and Israel are still 3rd-world countries. Simply excluding news sources with a "-source:" used to work on the news site the same way that "-site:" worked on the w

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