Google starts warning users if search results are likely to be poor | Google

Google has started warning users when they search for a topic that is likely to have poor results, as part of its effort to tackle “data voids” on the search engine.

The new warning was spotted by Renee DiResta, an academic who studies misinformation at Stanford University. “It looks like these results are changing quickly,” Google will now caution users. “If this topic is new, it can sometimes take time for results to be added by reliable sources.”

“First time I’ve seen this response from Google Search,” DiResta said. “Positive step to communicating that something is newsy/breaking (my search was for a breaking culture war story), highlighting that facts are not all known or consensus on what happened is still being formed.”

While social media is regularly linked with misinformation, researchers have long cautioned that search engines can be powerful tools for spreading falsehoods. Data voids, search engine queries that have little to no results, can often lead to fringe claims being given undue prominence – a particular concern for breaking news.

In a blogpost, Danny Sullivan, public liaison for search at Google, said: “We’ve trained our systems to detect when a topic is rapidly evolving 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 warning tends to appear for searches with a lot of recent hits, but few from reputable sites. For instance, a recent report of a UFO sighting in Wales had spread rapidly among conspiracy theorists, but had little mainstream attention. That meant that a search for the terms “ufo 106 mph” briefly brought up the warning, Sullivan told the tech site Recode.

“Someone had gotten this police report video released out in Wales, it’s had a little bit of press coverage. But there’s still not a lot about it,” Sullivan said. “But people are probably searching for it, they may be going around on social media – so we can tell it’s starting to trend. And we can also tell that there’s not a lot of necessarily great stuff that’s out there. And we also think that maybe new stuff will come along.”

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