Over the course of the last several years, every major social platform has been plagued by fake news. Now Bing, Microsoft’s search engine, has a fake news problem of its own.
Because of how the search engine’s autofill feature works, people who visit Bing looking for news videos may be redirected to a flood of fake news videos, all generated by a single source. You can see how it works for yourself: click on the “News” tab from Bing’s homepage. The page autofills the search bar with “Top stories.” Now travel to any other search tab, including “Maps” or “Images” and you’ll see that the search bar retains the “Top stories” query. Autofilling “Top stories” into the search bar appears to be an innocuous design decision — until you hit the “Video” tab.
There, you’ll see a wall of videos including “Breaking: Germany demands immediate prosecution of Obama”; “The Royal wedding in jeopardy,” and “Russian is about to take out Obama permanently.” Many of the videos promote moves made by President Donald Trump, and offer criticism of former President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Collectively, the videos have earned 83.6 million views.
And every video comes from one YouTube account: Top Stories Today, an account which appears to have been designed to game Bing’s design. The channel is devoted to promoting false and sensationalized news videos narrated by synthesized voices, which often speak in a kind of gibberish. “We report the genuine news and circumstances occurring the world over,” reads the account’s “about” page on YouTube. “Genuine Reports that the predominant press doesn’t need you to think about! We are your #ONE source for the most vital world event and stories happening every day!”
In content and in tone, Top Stories Today’s videos are reminiscent of the hoaxes that spread virally on Facebook and other platforms during the 2016 election.
“As soon as we become aware of this type of content, we take action to remove it from news search results, which we are doing in this case,” a Microsoft spokeswoman said in a statement. A message sent to Top Stories Today was not returned.
Update, 9:06 p.m.: This article has been updated with a response from Microsoft.