Opinion: Do you trust Google to deliver the truth?

Like everyone in media, I find it hard to imagine my working life without Google. However, despite my reliance on the search engine, I wouldn't necessarily regard it as an arbiter of truth. This, though, is apparently what it now aspires to be. And I couldn't help wondering, as I read the story this weekend, just what the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams was making of the technical advance that will allow Google to rank stories online according to accuracy and reliability: meaning when you search, you have a fair chance of actually finding the truth.

Last week I was among the media invited to Lambeth Palace to hear William's stinging attack on the media - his most extensive commentary on public life since taking up office.

A majority of his criticisms were undoubtedly aimed at the many 'adversarial and suspicious practices' of newspapers, which he said presume the subjects of investigation are guilty until proven innocent, ironically urging the media to raise 'embarrassingly low levels of trust'.

But Williams also derided the internet as a source of 'paranoid fantasy, self-indulgent nonsense and dangerous bigotry', saying that the 'the atmosphere is close to that of unpoliced conversation'.

Now, I wonder what will he make of Google's new proposition - analysing stories on the net according to the veracity of a source, its track record, the amount of traffic it attracts, circulation, staff size, breadth of coverage etc.

Even at first glance, a whole series of questions emerge about the criteria being used to determine 'truth'. And however reliant we are on Google, do we really trust the brand enough to tell us who to trust?

Williams was dismissive of the traditional self-image that journalists are defenders of the truth, and argued that we 'need to deflate some of the rhetoric about the media as guardians and nurturers of democracy simply by virtue of the constant exposure of information'.

So what are the implications of adding another level of filter for reality?

Can this technology really sift fact from interpretation and meet Williams's call for a ' a more realistic approach' to news?

And what will be the implication for PR? A hierarchy is likely to develop of news sources online that will make some more aspirational homes for client quotes. And what of print titles whose content is now going to be judged in an online environment? Will this also inform the decisions made about which title you most trust to buy at the newsstand, and which will be at the top of the PROs media list? Google has just provided a whole new angle to the trust debate.

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