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States launch ‘trusted information’ efforts against fake news on social media

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(CNN)A Facebook account impersonating the Swain County board of elections in North Carolina. Unfounded rumors that Tarrant County, Texas, doesn’t have former Vice President Joe Biden on the ballot. Wrong claims in Maine that Election Day is on different days for Republicans than for Democrats.

The misinformation on social media is contributing to a heightened alert ahead of Super Tuesday, when millions of Americans are expected to cast 2020 primary ballots.

“Misinformation is the most likely source of trouble we’re going to experience this year,” Keith Ingram, elections director at the Texas Secretary of State’s office, told CNN.

State officials say misinformation poses as big a threat to elections as cyber-attacks that could cripple voting infrastructure. So to counter the bad information online, states are increasingly going on the offensive — trying to spread good information to inoculate the public.

But while experts commend the effort, many have questions about its effectiveness — and some say states could be doing more.

Earlier this week, California’s secretary of state sent emails to the 6.6 million registered voters with email addresses on file, directing them to the state’s election education guide. North Carolina’s board of elections ran radio ads recently reminding voters that photo identification will not be necessary in the state on Super Tuesday, thanks to a recent court ruling.

Ingram said Texas’s online portal for accurate election information, votetexas.gov, is being “pounded in people’s minds” through social media.

And across the country, officials are using the hashtag #trustedinfo2020 to tell Americans exactly where to find the bedrock truth for election information.

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“Your source for #TrustedInfo2020 is ALWAYS your state and county election officials,” Oklahoma’s state election board tweeted last week — pointing voters to an internet portal for identifying polling places and requesting absentee ballots. The hashtag campaign is organized by the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS).

Drowning out misinformation

By flooding the zone with constructive content, states are hoping to drown out negative or harmful material. It’s an idea linked to a growing body of research on online extremism, which has found that offering a contrasting view against hate speech can minimize its impact and lead to more engagement for the positive messages on social media.

“The #trustedinfo2020 campaign is really a sort of reminder to people that there are resources that they can trust if they hear something or if they have some question about the news,” said Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap in an interview with CNN.

Meanwhile, in California, Secretary of State Alex Padilla has taken out ads on social media to promote the visibility of accurate information, according to Sam Mahood, an agency spokesman. In some cases, Mahood said, posts from the secretary’s official social media accounts correcting online misinformation were picked up by news outlets who helped further suppress the spread of false claims.

Social media platforms have also dramatically improved their relationships with states compared to 2016 and 2018, election officials said. Whereas some states once lacked ways to contact Facebook or Twitter in earlier cycles, that’s changed, said Ingram.

“They’ve all made themselves accessible,” he said. “They all have folks who reach out to us, and we have their [contact] information.”

The same goes for the federal government. The Department of Homeland Security has established real-time communications channels for state and local officials to share reports of suspicious activity. Those portals are mostly focused on cybersecurity threats. But the US government will “continue to plan for the worst” as it anticipates Russia continuing its misinformation efforts this year, acting Homeland Security secretary Chad Wolf told CNN last week in North Carolina.

Wolf also called on voters to make sure they are “getting their information straight from the source.”

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States reaching out to social media

As recently as last week, Facebook removed a misleading page that falsely told North Carolina voters they could fill out one bubble on a general-election ballot in order to vote for a single party across all eligible races, said Patrick Gannon, a spokesman for the state board of elections. The page risked confusing North Carolinians and damaging trust in the democratic process, he added, but Facebook removed it at the state’s request.

Still, playing Whack-a-Mole against individual cases of misinformation is no substitute for providing credible information, according to state officials.

Experts say awareness campaigns like #trustedinfo2020 are critical to improving public trust in the democratic process.

But, they added, there’s no single solution for a problem as abstract and multi-faceted as online misinformation, said Matt Sheehan, managing director of the Center for Public Interest Communications at the University of Florida.

“I wish there was a fix as simple as a hashtag, but it runs counter to how we’re wired as humans,” he said. “Our personalities and worldviews color the information we find credible, or seek out as consumers.”

The dedication of those trying to mislead voters, as well as the natural ebb and flow of ordinary misinformation, makes it hard for officials to compete, said Rachel Goodman, an attorney at the civil society nonprofit Protect Democracy.

“The unfortunate reality is, because there’s so many resources on the misnformation side,” she said, “it’s hard to see until we’re really in the crucible how it really measures up.”

By some estimates, the #trustedinfo2020 campaign doesn’t appear to have spread very far. One researcher who analyzed the hashtag told CNN that since late last year, it has been mentioned in about 10,000 tweets, mostly in posts created by election officials themselves. NASS declined to comment.

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“Ten thousand mentions since mid-November is a relatively low volume,” said Ben Nimmo, a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Digital Forensic Research Lab. “It shows there’s been some pickup, but it’s not a viral phenomenon yet.”

CNN’s Geneva Sands contributed to this report.

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NEWS

Google December Product Reviews Update Affects More Than English Language Sites? via @sejournal, @martinibuster

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Google’s Product Reviews update was announced to be rolling out to the English language. No mention was made as to if or when it would roll out to other languages. Mueller answered a question as to whether it is rolling out to other languages.

Google December 2021 Product Reviews Update

On December 1, 2021, Google announced on Twitter that a Product Review update would be rolling out that would focus on English language web pages.

The focus of the update was for improving the quality of reviews shown in Google search, specifically targeting review sites.

A Googler tweeted a description of the kinds of sites that would be targeted for demotion in the search rankings:

“Mainly relevant to sites that post articles reviewing products.

Think of sites like “best TVs under $200″.com.

Goal is to improve the quality and usefulness of reviews we show users.”

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Google also published a blog post with more guidance on the product review update that introduced two new best practices that Google’s algorithm would be looking for.

The first best practice was a requirement of evidence that a product was actually handled and reviewed.

The second best practice was to provide links to more than one place that a user could purchase the product.

The Twitter announcement stated that it was rolling out to English language websites. The blog post did not mention what languages it was rolling out to nor did the blog post specify that the product review update was limited to the English language.

Google’s Mueller Thinking About Product Reviews Update

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller trying to recall if December Product Review Update affects more than the English language

Screenshot of Google's John Mueller trying to recall if December Product Review Update affects more than the English language

Product Review Update Targets More Languages?

The person asking the question was rightly under the impression that the product review update only affected English language search results.

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But he asserted that he was seeing search volatility in the German language that appears to be related to Google’s December 2021 Product Review Update.

This is his question:

“I was seeing some movements in German search as well.

So I was wondering if there could also be an effect on websites in other languages by this product reviews update… because we had lots of movement and volatility in the last weeks.

…My question is, is it possible that the product reviews update affects other sites as well?”

John Mueller answered:

“I don’t know… like other languages?

My assumption was this was global and and across all languages.

But I don’t know what we announced in the blog post specifically.

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But usually we try to push the engineering team to make a decision on that so that we can document it properly in the blog post.

I don’t know if that happened with the product reviews update. I don’t recall the complete blog post.

But it’s… from my point of view it seems like something that we could be doing in multiple languages and wouldn’t be tied to English.

And even if it were English initially, it feels like something that is relevant across the board, and we should try to find ways to roll that out to other languages over time as well.

So I’m not particularly surprised that you see changes in Germany.

But I also don’t know what we actually announced with regards to the locations and languages that are involved.”

Does Product Reviews Update Affect More Languages?

While the tweeted announcement specified that the product reviews update was limited to the English language the official blog post did not mention any such limitations.

Google’s John Mueller offered his opinion that the product reviews update is something that Google could do in multiple languages.

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One must wonder if the tweet was meant to communicate that the update was rolling out first in English and subsequently to other languages.

It’s unclear if the product reviews update was rolled out globally to more languages. Hopefully Google will clarify this soon.

Citations

Google Blog Post About Product Reviews Update

Product reviews update and your site

Google’s New Product Reviews Guidelines

Write high quality product reviews

John Mueller Discusses If Product Reviews Update Is Global

Watch Mueller answer the question at the 14:00 Minute Mark

[embedded content]

Searchenginejournal.com

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