Google is becoming Big Mamma as it plans on making an algorithm change that targets content making slanderous comments about people.

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According to an article in the New York Times, Google is planning on making changes to its algorithm to lower websites in the SERPs that publish slanderous claims about others. This change is assumed to be a direct result of recent articles published by the New York Times which document how websites build businesses by targeting victims of slander. 

“For many years, the vicious cycle has spun: Websites solicit lurid, unverified complaints about supposed cheaters, sexual predators, deadbeats and scammers. People slander their enemies. The anonymous posts appear high in Google results for the names of victims. Then the websites charge the victims thousands of dollars to take the posts down.”

– the New York Times 

The changes that Google will make to its algorithm in the coming months will prevent such predatory websites from appearing in the SERPs when an individual’s name is searched. Furthermore, Google has developed a concept called “known victims” which aims to protect slander victims from being retargeted. 

“When people report to the company that they have been attacked on sites that charge to remove posts, Google will automatically suppress similar content when their names are searched for. “Known victims” also includes people whose nude photos have been published online without their consent, allowing them to request suppression of explicit results for their names.”

– David Graff, head of Google’s trust and safety policy team

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Was Google aware of this?

The short answer is no, Google was unaware of the ongoing problem of slanderous websites appearing in the SERPs until the New York Times brought it to their attention. 

Prior to the new discovery, Google had policies in place that allowed people to request slanderous pages to be removed from the SERPs. The removal of the slanderous pages led to a demotion on the SERPs of similar sites publishing similar content. However, Google was unaware of the issues regarding repeated harassment which continued even after the content was removed. 

“To help people who are dealing with extraordinary cases of repeated harassment, we’re implementing an improvement to our approach to further protect known victims. Now, once someone has requested a removal from one site with predatory practices, we will automatically apply ranking protections to help prevent content from other similar low quality sites appearing in search results for people’s names. We’re also looking to expand these protections further, as part of our ongoing work in this space.”

– Pandy Nayak, Vice President of Google Search

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Will the new algorithm solve the slander problem?

Although Google will be making algorithm changes and implementing the “known victims” policy, Google has admitted it will not be a perfect solution yet it will help solve the problem. 

“I doubt it will be a perfect solution, certainly not right off the bat. But I think it really should have a significant and positive impact. We can’t police the web, but we can be responsible citizens.”

– David Graff, head of Google’s trust and safety policy team. 

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When will the algorithm be changed?

Google is currently testing the changes with contractors as they do a side-by-side comparison of the new and old search results. In addition to this, the New York Times has been doing its own tests with a list of 47 000 people who have been removed from slander sites. The tests show that after searching for people whose results were reported for slanderous articles, it shows that Google’s algorithm changes are already noticeable.

The damaging content seems to have disappeared from the first page of the SERPs in some cases, while in other cases the content has mostly disappeared with the exception of content from a newly launched slander site.

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Why should you care?

This algorithm change only affects websites who specialise in targeting victims of slander, so you may be safe if you do not slander victims. However, this does throw a wrench in the works for reputation management  – yet Google will not have stronger safeguards to prevent reputation-damaging content from surfacing. 

Over time we will see how effective this algorithm change really is. However, it is interesting to note that Google can be pressured into making algorithm changes when the mainstream media draws enough attention to the issue at hand. Maybe Google is not as rigid as we thought.

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