Plenty of our daily activities on the internet begin with a search for more information, whether it’s news or info about various work and personal topics we might be interested in. Google Search plays a central role in that experience, of course, since it’s the most used online search engine in the world. But Search isn’t perfect, and Google continues to improve its reliability to ensure that the results it offers are genuine.
The dangers of fake news and misinformation became quite evident during the coronavirus pandemic, so Google rolled out a few new features to improve Search. In April 2020, Google started informing users when Search wasn’t able to find results that match a user’s query particularly well. Then, in February 2021, Google rolled out an “About this result” feature that provides more context about a particular search result. Google’s newest Search feature is another step in the right direction, as it will help users understand that the results they’re seeing might not provide correct or complete information.
Google Search’s algorithms can now detect “when a topic is rapidly evolving, and a range of sources hasn’t yet weighed in,” according to a blog post. When that happens, Google Search will place an indicator telling users that information relating to the results is changing quickly and that it might be best they return to Search later when more information might be available. In other words, Google will now warn users when search result are likely inaccurate or incomplete.
Google offers the Search example above, with someone looking for “ufo filmed traveling 106 mph.” The results return a message that tells users to be cautious about the first results they see, as things are changing quickly:
It looks like these results are changing quickly
If this topic IS new, it can sometimes take time for results to be added by reliable sources
The warning will only show up for breaking news-type of situations where results can vary as more information comes in. But it might be enough to instruct internet users to be cautious before sharing what could be incomplete information with others.
Some internet users have already started getting these prompts in search, but your mileage will vary. Most internet searches will not qualify, as this Googe Search algorithm change should only impact results related to developing, ongoing events.
First time I've seen this response from Google Search. Positive step to communicating that something is newsy/breaking (my search was for a breaking culture war story), and highlighting that facts are not all known or consensus on what happened is still being formed. pic.twitter.com/kdv4OAHRlw
— Renee DiResta (@noUpside) June 23, 2021
All these new Search features could further reduce the impact of fake news and reduce the spread of misinformation by teaching users how to disseminate information responsibly. The new Google Search prompt will start rolling out in the US initially, which certainly makes sense considering how prevalent misinformation has become here. Google says it plans to expand these features over the coming months.