Google is testing a new prompt on trending searches that do not have enough reliable sources. The new prompt may be meant to help make users more discerning about the information they are seeing.
According to Google, these changes are rolling out in the United States in English first.
Google’s announcement noted:
“…sometimes the reliable information you’re searching for just isn’t online yet. This can be particularly true for breaking news or emerging topics, when the information that’s published first may not be the most reliable.
To help with this, 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.”
New Prompt Spotted on Twitter
The person on Twitter noted the new prompt:
“First time I’ve seen this response from Google Search. 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.”
First time I've seen this response from Google Search. 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. pic.twitter.com/kdv4OAHRlw
— Renee DiResta (@noUpside) June 23, 2021
New Notice Meant to Counter Disinformation?
The new notice is about evolving topics. These are trending news articles or topics that do not yet have enough authoritative sources.
This might have something to do with recent research by Google and MIT that discovered that a simple prompt can cause users to snap out of their attention stream and become more critical about the information they are receiving.
More on this research below.
Results Changing Quickly Notice
Someone tweeted that they were seeing a new prompt from Google about evolving topics.
The new notice reads:
It looks like these results are changing quickly
If this topic is new, it can sometimes take time for results to be added by reliable sources
The above evolving topic notice was given in response to a search for “black triangle ufo ocean.”
It is an evolving story based on a report by a single news organization that the Pentagon has video evidence of a type of triangular UFO known as a black triangle UFO.
Screenshot of Google Images Displaying News Photo
Google is thus showing this evolving topic notice because there may not be enough reliable sources on this trending search query to verify the accuracy or truthfulness of it.
In a news report on Vox, Google’s Danny Sullivan is quoted as saying,
“…we get a lot of things that are entirely new …people are probably searching for it… we can tell it’s starting to trend. And we can also tell that there’s not a lot of necessarily great stuff that’s out there.”
Research on Shifting Readers Attention
There is new research that might or might not be directly connected to this new prompt.
It does however provide insights into the benefits of showing a prompt to users when there are no reliable sources.
The recent study by researchers associated with Google/Alphabet and MIT discovered that simple prompts can help users become more critical about the information they are seeing and subsequently share.
There is no explicit statement from Google that this study influenced the new Google prompt.
However the the research and the prompt have undeniable similarities to each other in terms of helping users be aware that a topic may not have reliable sources.
The new research was published in May 2021. The researchers from Google (actually an Alphabet company called Jigsaw) and MIT discovered that shifting user’s attention could help them become more critical about the information they were seeing.
“Recent research suggests that shifting users’ attention to accuracy increases the quality of news they subsequently share online.
…we identify a variety of different accuracy prompts that successful increase sharing discernment across a wide range of demographic subgroups while maintaining user autonomy.”
One of the researchers from Jigsaw, Rocky Cole, has this description in their LinkedIn profile:
“I’m currently focused on countering disinformation and harmful speech on the internet.”
This new prompt may be a new approach by Google to help users become more critical about trending information and to help stop the spread of misinformation.
Google’s Official Announcement
A New Notice in Search for Rapidly Evolving Results
Vox recode article
Google is Starting to Warn Users When it Doesn’t Have a Reliable Answer
PDF Version of Research Report
Developing an Accuracy-prompt Toolkit to Reduce COVID-19 Misinformation Online (PDF)