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Google embraces the news with new initiative to fight misinformation

'Subscribe With Google' aims to get more readers consuming content directly from publishers.
Image: People walk into Google's New York offices
People walk into Google's New York offices on March 5, 2018 in New York.Spencer Platt / Getty Images file

Google, which has been under fire for being an enabler of misinformation, is now fighting back with a $300 million plan to elevate quality journalism.

The search giant announced on Tuesday that it will bring together its programs and partnerships to fight fake news and promote authoritative news outlets under a centralized effort called the Google News Initiative.

"It’s becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish what’s true and what’s not online. Business models for journalism continue to change drastically. The rapid evolution of technology is challenging all institutions, including the news industry — to keep pace," Philipp Schindler, Google's chief business officer, said in a blog post. "We need to do more."

The move comes during a time when big tech, including Google, is facing tremendous scrutiny for its role in enabling fake news to propagate online. Last year, after the Las Vegas massacre, Google search surfaced threads from 4Chan that incorrectly identified the shooter and claimed he was a part of the leftist group Antifa.

Google's News Initiative will focus on strengthening quality journalism with a new subscription feature and an effort to block fake news, which will be supported by a new "disinformation lab."

A feature called Subscribe With Google will "ease the subscription process to get more readers consuming publishers’ journalism, as quickly as possible," Schindler said. Facebook is also said to be working on a similar feature to boost subscriptions.

Google's news program comes as the company's role in the business side of the media industry has come under growing scrutiny. Google and Facebook account for 73 percent of digital advertising in the United States, according to a report released last December by Pivotal. Both companies play a crucial role in driving clicks to publishers and helping to bring revenue to digital news outlets.

Google paid $12.6 billion to news partners last year and drove 10 billion clicks every month, according to Schindler's blog post.

Using machine learning, Google is also testing a "propensity to subscribe" feature, which will let publishers target people who are more likely to subscribe.

A new "Disinfo Lab" is designed to combat fake information during elections and breaking news moments. Google is also launching a new project called MediaWise with partners including the Poynter Institute, Stanford University and the Local Media Association to "improve digital information literacy for young consumers."

The third prong of Google's approach is to help newsrooms use its technology to become more efficient, create new storytelling experiences and to protect journalists from cyber attacks.

Google has previously worked with news organizations on other digital initiatives over the past 15 years, the company said. Some of those efforts have included improving the mobile internet and simplifying the video distribution model for publishers using YouTube and the Google News Lab, which partners with newsrooms to help them better navigate the digital landscape and make use of Google’s expertise.