from the outrage-always-pairs-up-well-with-deliberate-obtuseness dept
It appears we have another contestant willing to try his luck at a round of Making Things Worse by misunderstanding (deliberately or otherwise) How Google Works.
Ian "H" Watkins, former member of pre-assembled dance pop group Steps (and more commonly known as "H") has a problem with Google. It seems Google News served up a photo of "H" alongside a CBS News story about the other, much more infamous Ian (no "H") Watkins. The other Ian Watkins, former lead singer of nu-metal also-rans Lostprophet, was recently sentenced to 29 years in prison for several counts of child molestation.
Understandably, Ian "H" Watkins would like the public to know which Ian Watkins is which. Somehow, "H" has come to the conclusion that his photo's appearance in Google News roundups about the other Watkins' legal issues is Google's fault.
The "furious" singer's management said lawyers were "taking immediate steps to urgently rectify the position"."Astonished?" "H" can't be that astonished. After all, he should at least have some idea why his photos might be appearing next to stories dealing with the other Watkins. First off, shortly after the news broke about the former Lostprophets' singer's sexual offenses, "H" found himself under attack by online commenters who mistook him for the other Watkins.
He was said to be "astonished" that his photo was still being linked to "the appalling crimes of the Lostprophets singer".
A lot of time and effort went into straightening out this mess, and lots of column inches were written detailing the most unfortunate case of mistaken identity. Then things took a turn for the worse. E! Online pulled a photo of the wrong Watkins to accompany its story on the trial. "H" took E! Online to court over its mistake, securing a public, court-ordered apology for its indiscretion.
This obviously generated even more stories linking both Ian Watkins, as well as muddying the waters with discussion of photos. Now, "H" feels Google needs to fix something about its algorithm as it has been serving photos of the innocent Watkins alongside new stories when certain search terms are deployed. Here is Google's response.
"For some specific searches Ian H Watkins' picture is appearing in our results because he is relevant to the story, having received a court apology.If by "looking into it," the Google rep means "shrugging and letting the algo do its thing," then this is the right response. If by "looking into it," the Google rep means someone's altering the math so pictures of "H" no longer bubble to the News surface during these searches, then this response is completely wrong. Google can't prevent this, especially not if "H" continues to make an issue about the wrong photo being "used" by an algorithm. The more he gripes, the more news will be written tying him, his photo and his complaint with the other Ian Watkins, convicted child molester. It's like fighting quicksand. Every struggling motion only sinks you faster.
"We are looking into the issue he raises."
Furthermore, in the supposedly damning screenshot, the photo showing up next to the CBS News story is captioned "BBC News," making this appear to be a one-time glitch, rather than evidence that Google is algorithmically besmirching the good name of "H" Watkins continuously.
The following bit of legal theory appended to the article (via a London-based solicitor) makes me glad I live in a country not routinely frequented by libel tourists.
"A publisher's intention is irrelevant to the question of liability for defamation," said Emma Woollcott, media lawyer at Mishcon de Reya.I'll grant that a publisher's intentions may be irrelevant in these situations, but Google News isn't a publisher -- it's an aggregator powered by an algorithm. It can only return what has been generated by others.
"What matters is what the ordinary person would understand by what they read.
"If electronic algorithms connect two pieces of information and defamatory inferences arise, there may be potential for liability, even if the connection is inadvertent."
Holding algorithms liable for inadvertent defamation is what's generally considered to be "batshit crazy." Unfortunately, a variety of courts around the world have been more than willing to aid and abet those who fail to understand (or just don't care) how search algorithms work.
"H" is relevant to this sordid story as long as he continues to make himself relevant to the story. This latest, well-publicized swipe at Google will do nothing more than put more time on the clock, relevance-wise. He can keep claiming he doesn't know "why" his photo continues to appear in Google News, but he really can't expect anyone to believe him.