Ever wonder how reliable those search results are for a breaking story that’s ever-changing? Yeah, me neither; however, I probably should before I run and tell that.
Google will now tell you when search results are rapidly changing around a breaking story. Some searches will now pop up a warning that “it looks like these results are changing quickly,” and a subheading will explain that “if the topic is new, it can sometimes take time for results to be added by reliable sources.” In a blog post, the company suggests that users might want to check back later when it’s found more results.
“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.”– Google blog post
The sample Google search screenshot above features the search query “ufo filmed traveling 106 mph,” a direct reference to a recent tabloid story about a 2016 UFO sighting in Wales. If you plan on trying to recreate that message, it won’t work. I tried. Apparently, the feature only engages during truly breaking news moments that matter.
This effort joins Google’s recent attempt to help users with “search literacy,” or to better understand the full context about what they’re looking up. In April 2020, the company released a feature telling people when there aren’t enough good matches for their search, and in February 2021, it added an “about” tag next to most search results showing people a brief Wikipedia description of the site they’re seeing, when available.
But Google isn’t always this reliable. One example of Google inadvertently showing incorrect information during a mass shooting is shown in a tweet below. Too often, early reports are inaccurate and/or deliberately misinformed and spread.
Social media researchers including Renee DiResta at the Stanford Internet Observatory welcomed this new change via tweet:
It’s still unclear exactly what sources Google finds to be reliable on a given search result, and how many reliable sources need to weigh in before a questionable trending news topic loses that label. As the feature rolls out more broadly, we can likely expect to gain more clarity on the topic.
While this new warning label is certainly helpful in curving misinformation, sadly, such “data voids” will always be exploited so long as there is evil.