When search results are rapidly altering around a breaking topic, Google will now notify users. Some searches will now display a warning that “it appears that these results are changing quickly,” with a subheading that “if this topic is new, it may take time for credible sources to contribute results.”
In a blog post, the business advises customers to return later when it has uncovered more findings.
The alert will first display on English-language results from the United States “when a topic is fast evolving and a variety of sources hasn’t yet weighed in.” In the next months, Google will expand the tool’s availability to other areas.
“While Google Search will always be there with the most beneficial results we can provide,” the company explains, “sometimes the credible information you’re looking for isn’t online yet.”
“This is especially true in the case of breaking news or emerging subjects, where the initial information provided may not be the most reliable.” Following up on a tweet from Stanford Internet Observatory researcher Renee DiResta, Recode reported on the feature yesterday.
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The phrase “ufo videotaped traveling 106 mph” appears in a Google search screenshot, which appears to be a reference to a recent tabloid article concerning a 2016 UFO sighting in Wales.
(At the moment, that specific search result does not have the warning.) “Someone had a video of a police report released in Wales, and it gained a little bit of news attention.
But there’s still a lot of mystery surrounding it,” Google public liaison Danny Sullivan told Recode. “However, we can tell it’s starting to trend because people are presumably looking for it and maybe sharing it on social media. We can also see that there isn’t a lot of necessarily good stuff available. We also believe that additional material will become available.”
Apart from that amusing example, Google has unwittingly highlighted false information following mass shootings, where early government accounts are frequently inaccurate and deliberate misinformation is rampant.
(Data gaps, or terms with limited search results that can be easily hijacked by malicious actors, can compound this.) This warning isn’t guaranteed to prevent inappropriate content from appearing, and it’s unclear how Google assesses what constitutes a broad range of sources.
However, it has the potential to remove some of the misleading legitimacy that early, inaccurate search results might gain from high Google placement.