Google will soon warn users of unreliable search results

The update comes as a disclaimer for searches showing incorrect information during breaking news and emergency situations

When news breaks or there's an emergency situation, Google will now warn users that search results may be unreliable. The update comes as a disclaimer for searches possibly showing incorrect information at such times.

In a blog post published on Friday, the company said that when a topic is developing quickly and a range of sources haven't been weighed in by the search engine, a notice will appear advising the user to check back again later. The notice will initially appear only in English language results.

Google has released a sample screenshot of the update as it will appear to users. The familiar webpage features a notification in bold under the search box that reads: "It looks like these results are changing quickly."

A subhead elaborates: “If this topic is new, it can sometimes take time for results to be added by reliable sources.”

“Sometimes the reliable information you’re searching for just isn’t online yet,” the company explained in the blog post. “This can be particularly true for breaking news or emerging topics, when the information that’s published first may not be the most reliable.”

With the update, Google hopes to manage instances where the search engine inadvertently displays incorrect information during breaking news.

This has been true for events such as mass shootings, where early accounts are often misleading and spread disinformation.

In 2017, a day after the Las Vegas mass shooting, Google briefly put two threads from anonymous message board 4chan misidentifying the shooter in its Top Stories feature.

In an apology issued after the incident, Google explained that its algorithm had identified a spiked interest around the search term – the name of 4chan’s Las Vegas shooting suspect – and put the story in the Top Stories cycle.

While the disclaimer isn't a direct fix to the problem, it is a step towards thwarting the rapid spread of misinformation during emergency situations, said observers.

"First time I've seen this response from Google Search," tweeted Renee DiResta, research manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory.

"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."

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