A discussion at the Wikipedia Reddit community yesterday noted that Google searches asking if China owns the disputed South China Sea prominently featured a result from the online encyclopedia parroting the Chinese government position that it “enjoys indisputable sovereignty” over the sea. Reddit users noted the line appeared to be taken from a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement quoted in the article, a fact not included in the Google snippet. The line was removed after the Reddit discussion brought it to attention.
This is only the latest case where Google’s prioritizing of Wikipedia for prominently displayed information has spread propaganda or falsehoods.
Numerous territorial disputes exist regarding the South China Sea, most significantly the dispute over the Spratly Islands. Several Southeast Asian countries as well as the communist Chinese government and the government on Taiwan (who each officially claim the islands as governments representing China) dispute control over some or all of the islands. China’s claims in the sea incorporate other islands and together are cited by the government as the basis for its “nine-dash line” territorial claim, which asserts nearly the entire sea is under Chinese sovereignty. Other countries have criticized the claim as overly broad and vague.
The opening post of the discussion on the Wikipedia Reddit community showed a screen-cap of a Google search asking “Does the South China Sea belong to China?” where the “featured snippet” from Wikipedia’s article on “territorial disputes in the South China Sea” seemed to uncritically recite the mainland government’s stance by stating: “China enjoys indisputable sovereignty over the South China Sea and the island. China’s stand is based on historical facts and international law. China’s sovereign rights and positions are formed in the course of history and this position has been held by Chinese Government for long.” Other searches for variations of the question displayed the same snippet.
Such “featured snippets” are reportedly produced by Google’s search engine based on its algorithm determining what “will help people more easily discover what they’re seeking” with the search. Users noted the Google snippet matched a quote on the Wikipedia page from Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Jiang Yu, who was responding to an oil exploration deal India’s oil exploration company had signed with Vietnam’s state oil firm, a deal involving parts of the South China Sea. (Read more from “Google Pushes Chinese Propaganda About South China Sea – With Wikipedia’s Help” HERE)
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