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Google highlights fact-checking stories one month before election

The search giant will make it a little easier to find out when you're being lied to.
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This year's US presidential election is one of the most acrimonious in memory, with not a day going by without one campaign accusing the other of outrageous falsehood (some more than others). With one month to go until the country casts its votes, Google has started to specifically tag fact-checking articles on Google News to help readers decipher the truth from the outrageously false accusations and untruths.

When you visit Google's news site or use the Google "News and Weather" app for iOS and Android, you'll see fact-checking articles included alongside pieces of news, specifically labeled as such. The fact-check tag joins existing news tags like "opinion," "in-depth" and "highly cited."

In a blog post announcing the new feature, Google notes that the Duke Reporter's Lab has found that "rigorous fact checks are now conducted by more than 100 active sites" -- that may not sound like a lot, but it's a field that has grown in a huge way in recent years. Glenn Kessler, who runs The Washington Post's "Fact Checker" section said that there were only four such organizations back in 2010.

"I think that voters and people interested in politics really want to see whether or not politicians are telling the truth," Kessler said today in a phone interview. "There was a lot of publicity given to the American fact checkers in the 2012 election and a lot of international news coverage about the fact checkers, and that inspired fact checkers to spring up all over the place -- in Latin America, Africa, Asia, all across Europe."

And in a particularly tense and contested election year, it looks like people are indeed trying to separate the truth out of the many wild statements and stories being reported every day. Kessler said that traffic to his fact-checking site was up 477 percent this July compared to the previous year. Of course, in an election year there's bound to be more interest, but that's just one of many signs showing how fact-checking is having a moment in the sun. He also said that he first discussed the idea of surfacing fact-checking articles with a Google executive way back in March 2015, so it's been an idea at the company for a while now.

Alexios Mantzarlis, who run Poynter's International Fact-Checking Network, also is seeing a big surge of interest. "I have no idea whether we'll see a large bump in traffic from [Google's] move -- interest in fact-checking has been growing so fast in the US during this campaign that [the impact] may not be huge," he said over email. "I do think this will have the greatest effect if it kick-starts an earnest and industry-wide discussion about what all media-adjacent tech giants can do to promote fact-checking."

Ultimately, it's all about holding the subjects of reporting accountable and fact-checking both sides of an argument. Kessler says that it's not always reasonable to expect a single story to both give the news as well as fact-check it. "I always say fact-checking is a compliment to political reporting, not a supplement," Kessler says. "If look at discreet statements that politicians make, it's really hard if you're a political reporter covering the latest speech and step back and say 'that's not really true.' You don't have a lot of space to get into that -- but with a fact check, you can take that one statement and really put it under a microscope."

While it's a good step for Google to start highlighting fact-checking articles, particularly as the campaign enters its last month, these links aren't going to be plastered all over Google's search results. To find them, you'll need to go into the "expanded" view of news stories on the Google News page. The News & Weather iOS and Android apps aren't exactly the company's most prominent mobile resource, either. We'll be watching to see if Google expands the way it highlights fact-checking stories in the future, but for now they should start showing up in Google News today.

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