During the initial dustup over “fake news,” Google and its parent company Alphabet got less flack for spreading hoaxes than social media platforms like Facebook and Reddit. This week, the search giant is taking its lumps.
First: BuzzFeed explained how Alphabet-owned YouTube became the “engine” of false conspiracy theories like Pizzagate. Strike one.
Second: SearchEngineLand editor Danny Sullivan noticed that Google was passing off right-wing paranoia as the promoted answer to questions like, “Is Obama planning a coup?” and, “Is Obama planning martial law?” Strike two.
If you're wondering if Obama is planning a coup, Google's "one true answer" is yes. FFS. pic.twitter.com/pFr7omJttU— Danny Sullivan (@dannysullivan) March 5, 2017
(For those not in the loop, “FFS” isn’t a technical term. It stands for “for fuck’s sake.”)
Those bogus search results are also served up as fact on Google’s virtual assistant, Google Home. Unlike a normal page of search results, Google Home doesn’t tell you where its answer came from or give you the option to see other answers.
Here’s a video of BBC tech correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones getting the same ludicrous answer out of his Google Home:
And here's what happens if you ask Google Home "is Obama planning a coup?" pic.twitter.com/MzmZqGOOal— Rory Cellan-Jones (@ruskin147) March 5, 2017
I asked my Amazon Echo Dot, “Alexa, is Obama planning a coup?”
“Hmm,” Alexa said. “I can’t find the answer to the question I heard.”
Update: Reached by email, a Google spokesperson sent the following statement to Recode:
Featured Snippets in Search provide an automatic and algorithmic match to a given search query, and the content comes from third-party sites. Unfortunately, there are instances when we feature a site with inappropriate or misleading content. When we are alerted to a Featured Snippet that violates our policies, we work quickly to remove them, which we have done in this instance. We apologize for any offense this may have caused.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.