What is Google’s Project Owl?

The subject of the news has been a keep topic of conversation in recent months with the emergence of the fake news phenomena. Google and Facebook have made attempts to control this source of disinformation with various new systems, such as Google’s Project Owl. So, what is Google’s Project Owl and what does it do?

What is Fake News?

Wikipedia defines Fake News as “a type of yellow journalism that consists of deliberate misinformation or hoaxes spread via the traditional print, broadcasting news media, or via Internet-based social media. Fake news is written and published with the intent to mislead to gain financially or politically, often with sensationalist, exaggerated, or patently false headlines that grab attention.”

The difference between clickbait journalism and fake news is relatively minor and is more related to the intent of the deception. Fake news tends to be spread for economic or political gain by damaging opponents or competitors, whilst clickbait, whilst frequently useless, is often celebrity based and relatively benign.

It is not a new phenomenon, of course, both William Randolph Hurst and Joseph Pulitzer engaged in the process of an exaggeration to drive their circulation figures of their American newspapers during the 1890’s, just as modern newspaper websites use clickbait stories to drive more impressions.

Google Project Owl Form

What is Google’s Project Owl?

Google believe that around a quarter of one percent of queries return offensive or misleading content to try to overcome these issues it has developed the following responses.


  • New Search Quality Rater Guidelines:

Google searches are rated by real people to ensure that the pages are of high quality. In April, Google updated its Search Quality Rater Guidelines to provide more detailed examples of low-quality web pages for raters to appropriately flag.

It is expected that the learning based algorithm behind the search will begin to more easily recognise this low-quality content.

  • Ranking Changes

Google has also adapted its ranking signals to bring better, higher quality pages to the tip of the search results. These tools include


  • Google Autocomplete Feedback Tools

Google has made it easier to flat incorrect or misleading information that appears in features such as autocomplete and featured snippets. When information is flagged as incorrect by multiple users. The sites providing the data will be re-examined.


Challenges Facing Google’s Project Owl

As a first step – these changes look fine. However, a number of challenges face Google.

1.) By focusing on small niches, it does make it difficult to accurately define an authoritative source.
2.) Keeping neutrality will be difficult. Imagine a small site has a big, but possibly unbelievable angle, on an important new story? With no other information to verify the veracity of the story, Google may prevent the valuable information from reaching the outside world
3.) By opening up what is effectively a downvoting button, Black Hat SEO’s might be able to use the system to downvote a site that is competing with one of their clients.

Given the nature of the changes, it is difficult to see how Google can quickly roll out these changes. Facebook, with access to how the data is moving through related people (who it can see information regarding profession, interests and educational level amongst other things) may be in a better place to make changes to prevent fake news appearing in the feeds of their users.