Google News Categorizes Virginia Tech Massacre as "Entertainment," Raises Questions

Apr 23, 2007 • 8:55 am | comments (2) by | Filed Under Other Google Topics

In a Google Groups thread, a member notices that Google categorized the Virginia Tech incident of last week under "Entertainment" and was appalled. The user asks:

It's really, really disturbing that today Google is listing stories about Virginia Tech killer under "Entertainment." What in the world are you thinking?

A user with a similar concern emailed Google and they replied to him explaining that the algorithm was responsible for the "offensive" classification.

It's just an automated algorithm, I contacted them, not that they are likely to read the complaint this month and got an automated response saying that stories are just grouped by the search engine. Effectively anyway. Might as well read it yourself:-

Thank you for bringing this to our attention. This is an automated reply to your message about incorrectly grouped stories in Google News. Because Google News is compiled solely by computer algorithms, articles may occasionally appear in the wrong section or cluster. We're working to improve our technology, and the information you've provided will help us do this.

Frances (Google News Guide), from the Google News Team also wrote in to clarify:

Hi guys,

Thanks to everyone who reported this and to geordie for sharing the (correct) explanation. Being completely automated is a bit of a double-edged sword--no human can dictate what content appears on the homepage which means sometimes errors like this happen. The problem has been fixed, and stories about Virginia Tech should no longer appear in the Entertainment section.

I know how offensive a mistake like this can be, and I want you all to know that we took this error very seriously. Our hearts go out to the families and friends affected by this tragedy.


Another member, Jon Hendry, wrote in to say that "To hazard a guess, the 'Entertainment' category is actually more of a 'Media and Entertainment' category, so any stories about the media coverage of VT will end up there." I suppose that this makes sense. With an automated system parsing through millions of news stories, the categorization mishap is bound to happen. As long as Google takes this information and uses this to improve its algorithm, this is a lesson well-learned.

Discussion continues at Google Groups.

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