Google tweaks its search results to take on fake news

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The first of the changes will be updated New Search Quality Rater guidelines, so that raters can flag "misleading information, unexpected offensive results, hoaxes and unsupported conspiracy theories".

Ensuring that fake news doesn't surface in search requires "more structural" changes to the way search works, including tweaks to the algorithm that determines which search results appear on top, Google said in a blog post announcing the changes Tuesday.

The company said that around 0.25% of queries (of overall daily traffic) is returning "offensive or clearly misleading". Among other things, Google's search engine pointed to a website that incorrectly reported then President-elect Donald Trump had won the popular vote in the USA election, that President Barack Obama was planning a coup and that the Holocaust never occurred during World War II.

Vice president of engineering at Google Search, Ben Gomes, admits that people have been trying to "game" the system - working against the spirit of the goal of algorithms - to push poor-quality content and fake news higher up search results.

Since time immemorial (1998) Google's bread, butter, and raison d'être has been search.

"Our algorithms help identify reliable sources from the hundreds of billions of pages in our index", Google vice president of engineering Ben Gomes said in a blog post.

The process for flagging an autocomplete error.

Google is using human evaluators to assess the quality of search results for that subset of problematic queries. In other words, Google doesn't want to have to deal with all the bad publicity it has been getting for racist and inaccurate search results.

Google has marked the issue as a different problem from existing fake news issues, but its motto stays the same - i.e. - to decrease the volume of such sources.

Google is also changing the signals it uses to directly influence rankings, with an eye towards pushing low-quality content down. But as the criticism mounts, Google has taken more concrete steps to demote fake news.

Google also planned to change its "autocomplete" tool, which suggests search terms, to allow users to more easily to flag up troubling content, he said. Finally, Google is adding more information on the technology behind its Search features on its website.

"That feedback is then used to reshape the algorithms - the recipes, if you will -that Google uses".

But the fact that searches such as "Is Obama planning a coup?" - or even "Who invented stairs?" - produced such questionable results meant it had to act.