One of my colleagues, Mark Stoneman, recently wrote an interesting post in his blog Clio and Me on what happens when Google gets it wrong–or, more correctly, when Google users don’t think carefully about the results they get from their search query.
The example that Mark cites is depressingly familiar. Someone with a historical question types in a reasonable search, in this case “Hossbach protocol” and the first two items in the Google search rankings are reasonable looking websites from Holocaust deniers. I would link to them here, but that would just boost them higher in Google’s algorithms–type in “Hossbach protocol” yourself to see the results. If you had typed “Hossbach memorandum” you would have gotten the actual historical source first (from Yale’s Avalon Project), but you have to go down eight places in the search rankings to get to the Holocaust deniers that way.
How many unsuspecting users with a simple historical question run into websites with artful fabrications? Too many, I’m sure.
Because the Internet will always be a home to artful fabrications, historians have to pay close attention to their teaching responsibilities, and remember that our students need to learn how to make appropriate use of search engines and what they spit out. Otherwise, we are dooming a new generation to being duped by those who would make up the facts about the past.