August 13, 2007

GoogleNews Goes Forum; Newspapers Keep Their Lawyers

by PG

Jarret Cohen resurfaced in comments to recommend a USA Today article on GoogleNews's adding a feature in which anyone mentioned in a news piece can e-mail Google and, once verified as the person she claims to be, can have her response to the piece published on the same page as the Google search results for the story. Cohen says,

I guess Google has bought into my general vision of delivering the perspectives of all relevant parties.
I must say, I am very pleased. I can only hope the Internet continues to develop in this overall direction of participation and the enhancement, rather than the suppression, of information.
USA Today provides the following context for Google's decision: "far fewer people visit its news site than the one offered by chief search rival Yahoo. In June, Google's news search site had 9.28 million unique visitors, while Yahoo's news site had 35.2 million, according to the latest data from the research firm comScore Media Metrix."

In other words, GoogleNews must find ways to pull visitors to itself. Upgrading content by providing more than a simple news feed is one way to do so, though Google's reluctance to say how many employees were working on verifying that responses really were from someone mentioned in a given news article seems a sign that many people -- especially the kind who don't already have a site where they could put out a press release countering an erroneous news article -- would wait a long time to be verified. For example, my cousin appears on GoogleNews when you search the archives in an article that incorrectly states the career he planned to pursue, but the article provides no way to contact him, and he does not have a current telephone number nor e-mail address available online. And even if he had been impugned rather than merely misquoted in the local newspaper, how high would his response be on the priority list of a Google employee? But without the verification, the Google feature adds little value when so many news sources already have reader response features of one sort or another on their own sites.

I doubt that the ability to make a response will reduce legal protections against libel, harassment and other tortious speech acts in the near future, nor that news organizations will alter their vetting of what they publish on the ground that anyone who is mentioned and objects can just write to Google about it. After all, people obtain information through multiple routes, so unless my riposte is guaranteed to appear on every page that the original claim did, and to be emailed to all those who saw the statement about me before I did, it's not a sufficient remedy against the harm. The legal responsibility to be duly careful when making claims about others, and the moral responsibility to put one's own reputation behind one's words -- as nearly every source published on GoogleNews does -- is unlikely to be abated by merely adding some code to enable comments.

August 13, 2007 12:12 AM | TrackBack
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