Google will now notify users when search results change rapidly around a landmark story. Some searches will now display a warning that “it looks like these results are changing quickly”, and a caption will explain that “if this topic is new, sometimes adding results from reliable sources can take time”. In a blog post, the company suggests that users might want to check back later when they find more results.
The notice initially appears on the US-based English results “when a topic is moving rapidly and a range of sources has yet to be considered.” Google will expand the tool’s presence to other markets in the coming months.
“While Google search will always be there with the most useful results we can provide, sometimes the reliable information you’re looking for just isn’t online yet,” the company explains. “This can be especially true for breaking news or emerging topics, when the information released first may not be the most reliable. ” Recode reported on the feature yesterday, following up on a tweet from Renee DiResta, researcher at the Stanford Internet Observatory.
An example Google search screenshot features the query “UFO filmed traveling at 106 mph”, an apparent reference to a recent tabloid story about a 2016 UFO sighting in Wales. (Currently, this specific search result does not actually include the warning.) “Someone had released this police report video in Wales, and it received little media coverage. But there’s still not much about it, ”said Danny Sullivan, Google Search Liaison Recode. “But people are probably looking for it, maybe they are circulating on social media – so we can say it’s starting to have a trend. And we can also say that there aren’t a lot of necessarily great things out there. And we also think that maybe new things will happen.
Aside from this fanciful example, Google has inadvertently presented incorrect information after mass shootings – where early official reports are often inaccurate and deliberate disinformation is common. (This is sometimes exacerbated by ‘data gaps’ or keywords that have few search results and can be easily hijacked by bad actors.) This disclaimer will not necessarily prevent bad content from surfacing, and it is not clear exactly how Google determines a sufficient range of sources. But that could remove some of the false legitimacy that a high Google placement can give to early and unreliable search results.