Google’s ‘Misinformation Graph’ Strikes Again

    October 29, 2013
    Chris Crum
    Comments are off for this post.

Users have encountered another blunder from the Google Knowledge Graph with Google showing some quite questionable content, and presenting it as “knowledge” on a very high-traffic search term. This is only the latest in a series of misfires from the Knowledge Graph, but probably the highest profile example yet, given the search term.

Do you consider Google’s results to be reliable? Let us know in the comments.

The term is “st. louis cardinals”. As you may know, the team is currently in the World Series, so it stands to reason there are a lot of searches happening for that particular term. It’s currently number five for baseball teams on Google Trends:

Search for “st. louis cardinals” on Google right now, and you’ll probably see a Knowledge Graph result that looks something like this:

Cardinals knowledge graph

Okay, looks legit. Last night, however, things looked a little different, as Ben Cook pointed on Twitter (via RustyBrick).

Yep, it really said that. That’s not a photoshop job. As David Goldstick pointed out, a Wikipedia revision had been made earlier, but Google hadn’t updated its cache. You can see the revision here:

Cardinals Wiki

We’ve reached out to Google for comment on update timing, and will update if we hear back.

Update: We just got a response from Google’s Jason Freidenfelds, who tells us, “We crawl sources at different rates; for fast-changing info it can be within hours. But in this case it was a technical issue on our end that let outdated information through. We’ve fixed the issue.”

It’s unclear exactly how long this text appeared in Google’s search results, but it was at least for a few hours, according to Rusty. And the Cardinals did play a World Series game, so quite a few people probably saw it. Some even accused Google of being a Red Sox fan:

We’ve talked about the reliability and credibility of Google’s Knowledge Graph results a few times in the past, mainly because things keep happening. In fact, it hasn’t even been a month since the last mistake we saw, when Google was showing an image of the singer/actress Brandy for brandy the drink.


After a little media coverage, they appear to have corrected it, but it took them a while, even after said coverage. They couldn’t blame Wikipedia on that one because the Wikipedia page for the drink showed a drink.

There have been other cases where Google has shown erroneous info in the Knowledge Graph. A while back, for example, it got a football player’s marital status wrong.

As I’ve said before, the errors may be few and far between, but how can users know for sure whether or not they can trust the information Google is providing as “knowledge”? Typically, users aren’t going to question the information they see here unless it’s obviously wrong.

In the case of the St. Louis Cardinals, it was obviously a prank, but people looking to spread misinformation can be a lot more clever than that. There’s no telling how much factually incorrect info Google is highlighting to users at any given time. Even if Google is able to quickly correct it, people can still be seeing it. As we see with the Cardinals example this can even happen on major search queries.

In some cases, we’ve even seen Google promoting brands on generic queries.

Meanwhile, Google continues to expand the Knowledge Graph to more types of queries, and to provide more types of information, potentially opening the door to more errors.

A side effect of Google’s Knowledge Graph is that people have less of a reason to click over to other websites. When Google is presenting the “answer” to their queries right in the search results, why bother to look further? You just assume it’s the correct answer. Not that there isn’t going to be misinformation on third-party sites, but at least going in, users can decide for themselves how much they want to trust a particular source. I think most probably trust Google enough to assume they’re displaying factual info on their search results page.

Google’s voice search also draws from the Knowledge Graph to provide users with answers, and this kind of searching is only gaining momentum as smartphone use grows. Users count on Google to give them factual information when they don’t point them elsewhere. Should they second guess the info they’re getting every time they get an “answer”?

Part of the issue is Wikipedia’s own credibility. Is sourcing the majority of the Knowledge Graph to Wikipedia a good idea in the first place?

This comes at an interesting time at Wikipedia itself. Last week, executive director Sue Gardner announced that Wikipedia had already shut down hundreds of accounts for paid edits. People have been manipulating Wikipedia for their own monetary gain, and apparently, some of the higher-ups had allowed it to happen, which is why it was even able to. Gardner expressed “shock and dismay” over the whole thing, and the investigation is ongoing.

Gardner, by the way, announced earlier this year that she was stepping down from her position, saying she was “uncomfortable” with where the Internet is heading. While Wikipedia, in general, has been an invaluable source of information for years, these things make you question its reliability, and by default, the reliability of Google’s Knowledge Graph, which leans on Wikipedia so heavily for its information. This is, by the way, where the Internet is headed – at least where Internet search is headed.

“This is a critical first step towards building the next generation of search,” Google’s Amit Singhal said in introducing the Knowledge Graph.

And in case you’re thinking about Bing, it has a practically identical feature (though I’ve not seen any reports about the Cardinals blunder related to Bing).

It’s very possible – perhaps likely – that the majority of the answers and information that Google’s Knowledge Graph feeds you is completely accurate, but if you’re ever searching for anything important (remember, Knowledge Graph includes nutrition and medical knowledge now), you may do well to remember that St. Louis Cardinals example, and continue your research. Verify the important facts. If Google can get it so wrong on such a hot search query, it can probably get it wrong on more obscure stuff.

Is this the direction search should be going in? Do you trust the Knowledge Graph? Share your thoughts in the comments.

  • Patrice

    Who cares about satisfying results, google needs to sell more ads. The worst the natural results are, the more ads they sell. + they evade the profit in the bermudas ( 9 billion euros last year )

  • http://www.disbergsdepot.com Darlene


    I think you are getting your tail twisted for little reason. So Google isn’t 100% – who or what is? I’m not. I bet if you scoured my website you would find errors. Oh Right! That is only me. Well I think the same if we scoured your website too.

    Just live and let live. If people are not double checking what they are looking for – so be it.

  • http://keihatsu.blogspot.com Andrew Bransford Brown

    Since computer geeks can easily be bought off with a few prostitutes hired as girlfriends, how does a potential customer know its data is secure from prying eyes?

    I have the software solution part to it. Pretty simple.

    If you’d like to do an article, it would be a good one.

  • Andy Green

    Totally agree that all Google is concerned about is revenue. Why would they show appropriate organic results, this would make their Adwords suffer, it’s a conflict of interests They’ve got people afraid of linking now in case it’s deemed to be spam. Too many anchor phrases, not enough anchor phrases. They’ve got everyone jumping through hoops.

  • http://www.chrisfarrellcomment.com Jenny

    Google gets it wrong all the time and I agree with your advice to verify the facts.

  • ray

    More and more these forums are becoming a place for people to complain about Google and it’s getting really old. More constructive knowledge would be nice. In the case of this article I don’t blame Google at all, they were sourcing the information from wikipedia. Maybe this article should be complaining about wikipedia instead? Clearly it would not be optimal for Google to requery the source wikipedia article every time a search is made, but perhaps they could add a feedback tool so that if somebody does notice an issue with the knowledge graph content it could be brought to their attention more frequently. You people need to stop whining about Google and their ads. The ads are clearly labeled, get over it. They run a huge free service, so how else are they supposed to stay in business?

  • http://RU-seriously.com reyloweiffert

    google been good but just had my first say what?

  • http://RU-seriously.com reyloweiffert

    political&entertainment publication

  • Julie

    So let me get this straight you guys basically just look at other sites for news and make one comment in your article. Are you just seo round table scrapers?

  • http://tectivoo.com/ Josh Trenser

    Somebody should stop that Google monopoly!!!

  • http://www.cartridgesave.co.uk A Morris

    Well it was there for a few hours as some immature person changed the Wikipedia result, it’s not like it’s there for Barack Obama or some such. The fact is pretty much only Americans pay attention to Baseball, so the rest of the world will remain clueless/disinterested.

    Anyone who knows Wikipedia also knows the constant hijacking it must be under, so I wouldn’t really put this down as “Misinformation” and instead focus on the individual who decided to make the puerile little alteration.

  • http://www.blog.webdesignoptimizare.ro Theodore

    The things are not perfect at all in any domain, but everything it’s perfectible, so it’s Google!
    it will be better next time, but still some impromvements need to be done in another area, because it is so …huge and covers alot of domains, this process will never stop, in my opinion!

  • Ralphie

    This is news only because it is funny and drops egg on the face of Google.

    The thing is are you guys and girls really surprised by this?

    Google results have been questionable for some time and with each update they seem to screw it up more.

    LOL@ Google and their reliable info!!

  • https://www.searchen.com John Colascione

    This is an incredible example of knowledge graph inaccuracy. It will be very interesting to see exactly how Google handles this. This is unquestionably a tremendous problem that I doubt very much Google will be able to ignore.

  • http://design-4-less.com Darnell

    Google definitely slants its results to center sites that it does not take any diagnostics of the on page content to realize it is not appropriate. When a search result URL is as ineffective as an Adwords click, you have all the info you need to know about the algorithm manipulation that occurs to benefit Google’s bottom line. We see our own proprietary names and registered trademark names show up well below other sites who offer nothing even comparable.

  • http://www.computershowto.pro Attila

    The question is not whether the results are trustworthy or not, and not even whether they should double-check the data before republishing it, the question that bags, WHY was this pseudo facebook-graph type search implemented ? Because, in my mind, there’s absolutely no doubt about the fact, that these last 12 months, ALL BIG COMPANIES, e.g google, yahoo, facebook, twitter, etc., ALL of them have implemented changes THAT WERE NOT NEEDED.
    So, as I’ve previously said: these changes have one single goal, actually, and it’s not even beneficial to the companies themselves: these changes are only implemented so that programmers and staff in those companies won’t loose their jobs. Nothing less, nothing more. Making changes simply for the sake of making them is dumb at best, and criminal at worst.
    I presume in a year or two, both google and yahoo are going to pay a very steep price for this, by going bankrupt, losing all their users, and all their profits.
    As the saying goes, all journeys start with a single step, well, google and yahoo have surely made the first steps with these changes… towards bankruptcy.

  • http://www.inkntoneruk.co.uk Don

    I will defend Google on this one.

    It is not their fault if Wikipedia have unreliable information…

    I also think that knowledge graph is awesome.