Google is a powerful search tool, but it also has several limitations that researchers should consider. It can be useful in identifying fake news, but it can also deliver false and misleading sites in its search results.
1. Google PageRank Algorithm - Part of Google's algorithm ranks pages by the number of other pages that link to it and the importance of those pages. This can be manipulated by certain websites so that they appear high on Google's list of results. These sites are sometimes false, misleading, extremely biased or even hateful.
2. Filter Bubbles - Algorithms in search engines use our previous searches and personal information to deliver individualized results. According to Eli Parisner, author of the book The Filter Bubble, this prevents some types of information from ever being in our results list as more links are delivered that confirm our interests and beliefs. Check out the University Of Illinois Library's excellent guide on filter bubbles and how to burst them.
3. No Editorial Process- Google, like most search engines, does not evaluate web sites for accuracy or quality. The top results on a Google search are not based on the quality or accuracy of the information but on Google's algorithm. PageRank remains an important part of that algorithm.
Why Evaluate Web Sites?
For two very critical reasons:
Use the five criteria listed in the column to the right, and remember them by the helpful mnemonic device ABC³. Ask yourself each of the questions given. If you find that not enough information is available to answer the questions, the site may not be credible.
Authority refers the question of "Who?" Who wrote this information? Who sponsored it? What are their credentials (or why should we trust them)?
Buzzle - The disclaimer at Buzzle states that they assume no liability or responsibility for error or omissions in their information!
Streisand Misquotes Shakespeare - The singer relied on a quote from the Internet attributed to Shakespeare. The quote was written by an Internet prankster.
Oprah's Long History With Junk Science - Oprah's show has allowed the promotion and endorsement of guests with little credibility offering medical advice.
Bias refers to the question of "Why?" Why is this information given, and why is it given in this particular way? What is the author or sponsor's ultimate goal? Depending on its purpose, information can be very one-sided (to sway the reader's opinion), or it can be very objective.
Don't confuse bias with falsehood. Information can be completely true -- factually correct -- and yet still biased. Remember, the author may have left out some important details!
Currency refers to the question of "When?" When was this information written, and when was it last updated? Is it up-to-date, or has the topic changed since that time?
Content refers to the question of "What?" What information is given? Is it relevant to your search? Is it scholarly or popular?
Consistency is the comparison of this information with other sources. Does this information make sense with what you already know? Does it seem to match what other experts have to say? This can help you determine if the information is factually correct.