A new feature from Google to alert you about rumors and misleading news

Google is testing a new feature that notifies people when they search for a topic that may have unreliable results. This move is a notable move by the world's most popular search engine to give people more information about the context of urgent or popular online events such as the development of news stories.

The new feature warns users that the results they see change quickly "if this topic is new, it may sometimes take time for results to be added by trusted sources."

Google confirmed to Recode that it began testing the feature about a week ago. Currently, the company says the notification appears only in a small percentage of searches, which tend to update trending topics.

Companies such as Google, Twitter and Facebook have struggled to deal with the large volume of misinformation, conspiracy theories and unverified news stories circulating on the Internet.

In the past, these companies have largely shied away from removing content in all but the most extreme cases, citing a commitment to free speech values. But during the COVID-19 pandemic and the 2020 US election, some companies have taken unprecedented action by removing popular accounts spreading misinformation.

"When anyone does a Google search, we try to show them the most relevant and reliable information," said Danny Sullivan, Google's public communications officer.

He added that the notice does not state that what you see in search results is true or false, but that "this is a variable situation and more information may appear later."

Sullivan cited, for example, a report of a suspected UFO sighting in the UK: "Someone posted this video of the police report in Wales, and they've gotten a little bit of press coverage, but there's not much about it."

"People might be looking for it on social media, so we can say it's starting to trend. We can also say there's not necessarily a lot of real stuff about it. We also think maybe new things will come out."

The feature builds on Google's recent efforts to help users "search literate", or better understand context for what they're searching for.

In April 2020, the company released a feature that tells people when there aren't enough good matches for their search, and in February 2021, it added an "About" button next to most search results showing a short description of people's Wikipedia, which we see. when available.

"It's a great way to get people to pause before they act or spread the information further," said Evelyn Dweck, a researcher at Harvard University who studies online speech science.

"It doesn't involve anyone making judgments about the truth or falsity of any story but it does give readers more context. In almost all breaking news contexts, the first stories are not complete, so it's a good idea to remind people of that," she added.

There are still some questions about how this feature works. For example, it is not clear exactly what sources Google finds credible in a given search result, and how many credible sources need to be evaluated before a questionable trending news topic loses ranking. As the feature rolls out more widely, we can likely expect to see more discussions about how to implement it.

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