Google News Initiative: Fighting Misinformation and Fake News

Gabriele Cruciata

On October 25, JCU welcomed award-winning journalist and Google Teaching Fellow Gabriele Cruciata, to discuss misinformation and fake news. The talk was organized by the Office of Student Services in collaboration with the Google News Initiative, a project launched in 2018 by Google to help train journalists to deal with the flood of fake news and misinformation that pervades the digital world.

In his talk, Cruciata specified that the most relevant thing in journalism is fact-checking. He pointed out that it’s good practice for international journalists to follow protocol by fact-checking at least three independent sources that corroborate the same information.

He also mentioned that there are multiple ways of getting information, mainly through open and closed sources. One method does not exclude the other, and Cruciata insists on the importance of fact-checking regardless of where the information originates.

By interacting with the audience, Cruciata led the discussion on open sources, fact-checking and the use of “search operators” to improve search results. He defined search operators as keywords that can be used to get accurate results on a specific topic. Cruciata said that knowing how to use keywords is like forcing Google to only give you results that include the words you want and their relationship to each other.

Cruciata provided an example with a search for names, explaining that Google breaks down information and does not necessarily understand that first and last name are related to a person. Through search operators, Cruciata demonstrated that Google can be guided to provide a small number of results precisely based on selected keywords, language, and time frame.

Cruciata further mentioned how Google’s tools can be very useful in verifying not only news stories, but also social media stories. Using an Instagram story he made at JCU as an example, Cruciata showed how to trace back the photo to the exact spot where it was taken. He spotted some key elements such as nearby buildings, trees, and streets and searched them on Google, narrowing down the results to pinpoint the precise location from where he had taken the photo.

Cruciata concluded his talk by remarking that open sources allow the user to verify information by consulting what has already been stored online by other users. He also emphasized the importance of thinking in a “defensive” way, thus verifying any information we receive.

“The topic of misinformation and fake news is highly relevant not only for aspiring journalists, but for all scholars, academics and students who engage with data,” said Federica Bocco, organizer of the event and Assistant Director of Student Services. “We hope to develop this talk into a series next semester, in collaboration with other JCU departments.”