Your Google searches for breaking news stories may now produce a surprising outcome: a warning that your results could be unreliable.
The company has started showing notifications for searches on emerging topics, which suggest that users return later when more information is available.
The notice is Google’s latest efforts to mitigate misinformation in search results for breaking news. In a blog post, Danny Sullivan, public liaison for search at Google, said that sometimes reliable information isn’t online at the time that users search:
To help with this, we’ve trained our systems to detect when a topic is rapidly evolving and a range of sources hasn’t yet weighed in. We’ll now show a notice indicating that it may be best to check back later when more information from a wider range of sources might be available.
The feature was first spotted by Stanford Internet Observatory researcher Renee DiResta, who described it as a “positive step.”
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
Google has long been criticized for letting unreliable sources and conspiracy theories reach the top of search results for rapidly evolving stories.
Twitter and Facebook have faced similar accusations. Karen North, an expert in social media at the University of Southern California, told the New York Times in 2018 that users can game ranking algorithms in these situations:
Before reliable sources put up stories, it’s a bit of a free-for-all. People who are in the business of posting sensationalized opinions about the news have learned that the sooner they put up their materials, the more likely their content will be found by an audience.
The warnings may help stem the tide of misinformation, but they could also exacerbate concerns about Google censoring alternative media outlets.
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