Last month, Google published a blog post titled “What Google Searches Reveal about You” in which the company explained that it uses its search data to “better understand the connections between people and the world around them.” At the time, the company didn’t specify what it meant by “connections,” and “topic mapping” was just one of several new terms the company had coined. Today, in a blog post titled “What Google Searches Reveal about You (Updated)” the company is upgrading its language.
In November of this year, Google will begin testing a new feature in its search engine, that will prompt users when they click on a link in a Google search to “go to the original source.” The new prompt may appear as a small, blue “opinion” label in the search engine results page (SERP), near the search link. The prompt is still in beta, so it will be available only to a small percentage of Google users in the United States.
Google’s Trending Topics feature, which determines what’s trending in the news today, has been hugely popular since it launched in 2013. But, when you search an article title and get a blank page, instead of a list of stories, people often assume that Google has abandoned the feature. This isn’t the case: Google is testing a new feature that will add a “reliable sources” prompt to the Trending Topics list, to help make sure people can see it.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.
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, 2023
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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
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
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.
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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 2023. 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.”
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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.
Vox recode article
Google is Starting to Warn Users When it Doesn’t Have a Reliable Answer
Developing an Accuracy-prompt Toolkit to Reduce COVID-19 Misinformation Online
PDF Version of Research Report
Developing an Accuracy-prompt Toolkit to Reduce COVID-19 Misinformation Online (PDF)
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