On Monday, Slate ran an article from Future Tense by Evgeny Morozov called Warning: This Site Contains Conspiracy Theories – Anti-vaccine activists, 9/11 deniers and Google’s social search. The article is based on a recent study in Vaccine that examined the strategies, tactics and content of several anti-vaccination websites. I would highly recommend reading the study if you have an interest in online science-based communication.
The study’s author, Anna Kata of the department of anthropology at McMaster University, outlines how anti-vaccination websites increase their own relevancy in Google search results through a myriad of what is essentially SEO, one-way and three-way link exchanges.
While Kata briefly notes possible solutions to the SEO issue, Morozov goes a step further by recommending two possible solutions: 1. A browser extension that would ‘red flag’ websites that use anti-science keywords and 2. For Google to “exercise a heavier curatorial control in presenting search results.”
I take issue with both of these proposed solutions. Before I go forward, in order to ward off starting any conspiracy theories of my own, I would like to state explicitly that to the best of my knowledge Google isn’t investigating or implementing either of the options suggested by Morozov. Continue reading