Using Google News to Verify Claims

When you’re confronted with a news claim you want to verify, you have a lot of options. Generally, the first move of our four move method is to look for previous work. Find a fact-check or a reliable article from a local or well-resourced publication that’s already done the verification for you.

The easiest way to do that, especially with breaking news, is to use the select and search browser option. Select relevant text, right-click (or command-click) to get a context menu, and then select the “search” option.

When the search opens in a new tab, choose the news tab (available in both Google and Bing). This gives you a curated stream of news to choose from, and provides some markers of credibility as well, showing you what a local source is and marking in-depth treatments. Here’s a screencast to show how its done:

There are things to watch here. Google News provides a much higher quality set of news sources than general search, but not everything in Google News is trustworthy. Google News still indexes conspiracy sites such as World Net Daily, for instance. Additionally, when foreign newspapers report American stories (or when American papers report foreign stories) special care should be taken: cultural notions sometimes don’t transfer, and foreign press often misunderstand hoax sites as true American news, as in this case where an Indian newspaper repeats a hoax debunked by Snopes months ago:

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Users also have to be careful of opinion columns on traditional news sites. There are many reliable reporting sources that have opinion pages with little to no verification process in place. Here’s an example of what to be careful of:

taxplan

There’s two New York Times items here, but they are completely different in type, and for all intents and purposes from two different sources. The first one is an opinion column, and the second is a straight news item. In Google they look exactly the same. If you’re used to this stuff, you can get a good idea from the tone of the snippet which is which, but if you’re new to this you probably have to click through.

opinion

A good traditional news source — such as the Wall Street Journal or the Washington Post — will make clear which items are opinion and which are reporting. Many non-traditional sources will not (one benefit of using traditional sources for verification is the hard line they draw between editorial and news reporting).

All of these caveats might sound a bit distressing, but even with these caveats, using Google News to check news claims is going to filter out 95% of the junk. For many verification tasks it’s the best first move.

Using Google News to Verify Older Claims

Google News is a good place to verify older claims as well, or claims where you are unsure of the relevant time-frame.

As an example, here’s an item that floated into my Pinterest feed today:

sackhoff

Is this true? Is it new?

If you go to Google, type in Katee Sackhoff, search then and hit the news tab, you’ll find out that it is at least true that Sackhoff *said* this in 2013:

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You can actually scan enough snippets here to get an idea of what happened. Reliable sources say Sackhoff said she lost half her followers, less reliable sources such as WorldNetDaily and Guns.com validate the “half” claim directly in their headlines, without stating Sackhoff was the source of the claim and the claim was not verified.

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This is why it’s still important to choose sources from the feed wisely, read the keyword-in-context snippets when available, and if necessary click through to the article.

In this particular case, the precision of words turns out to be important, since as Reason.com notes in an update to their erroneous story that Sackhoff appears to have been making a joke and did not lose many followers at all:

UPDATE: Looks like Sackhoff was kidding when she said she lost half her followers. Twitter stats show she didn’t take a net hit. She’s actually up a few followers today. A Sackhoff fan emails to say “Katee jokes a lot.”

(As a side note, one indicator of source reliability is whether they issue corrections after claims they made are discovered to be false. Seeing which outlets bothered to correct this story and which didn’t might make a good class activity.)

Using Google News to Verify a Source as “Real”

As noted, Google News contains some dubious sources, and a lot of unverified or weakly verified content in the form of opinion columns and slanted news. In Google News, you will find some conspiracy sites, many opinion columns, and lots of headlines that outright lie.  Google News does not, however, contain a lot of hoax sites; you won’t find a source claiming to be a local paper that isn’t, or publications making up stories out of nothing.

As such, You can use a Google News search for a baseline check on whether a publication is “real” or “fake”.

I show two examples of this in the video below:

Again, this is a quick and dirty check. A more detailed check might involve searching Snopes, following the story to the source, or looking up the publication in Wikipedia.

A Note on the Two Faces of Google News

The desktop version of Google news has two interfaces: an older “News Archives” version and a newer “Breaking News” interface. Here’s what they look like.

The “News Archive” view:

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The new “Reader” view, rolled out in July 2017:

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The big differences are the reduction is clutter, the use of a card-based interface, the better highlighting of local and in-depth coverage, and better paths to related content, whether through fact-checks or topical tags. For people browsing the news, the new interface does a better job of flagging expertise and exposing people to diverse perspectives.

While the “reader” interface provides a better reading and browsing experience it provides a bad experience for verification. There are no snippets of keywords in context, there’s no access to date filters, and old content is not available through the interface.

Here, for example, is what we get when we search for the DART officer story in the “News Reader” interface:

DART

This is because the event, which happened two weeks ago, is already is already too old for the “reader” view. If you click the Google News Archive link, it will take you to both the older interface and the older news articles.

The reader view also is missing a number of important tools for verification that we’ll talk about using later, like full date range filtering and keyword in context.

If you use the select-and-right-click method we show here, you should end up at the “news archive” view which is what you want. If you end up in the news reader by mistake, your best move is to go to google.com, make your search, and click the news tab. In general use the reader view for browsing recent news, but avoid it when using Google News for verification purposes.

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