Google modifies search engine to root out hoaxes

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Google is making changes to its search algorithm to promote more authoritative content and demote “low quality” content such as Holocaust denials.

The Internet giant is responding to growing pressure to make sure the top answers it provides to people’s search queries are accurate and do not contribute to the spread of misinformation, conspiracy theories, hoaxes and offensive content on the Web.

People searching Google will be able to more easily flag search results that are "unexpected, inaccurate or offensive," says Ben Gomes, vice president of engineering for Google Search. And search quality raters have received new guidance on how to spot and report this content too.

A fraction, about 0.25%, of searches returns offensive or misleading content, according to Google. Features designed to get people answers more quickly and on more platforms such as smart speaker Google Home are contributing to the problem. For example, autocomplete fills in the information you may be searching for as you type. Featured snippets highlight an answer to a query at the top of search results. They are each generated by search algorithms and reflect what people are searching for and what’s available on the Web. Public outcry helped torpedo a featured snippet that claimed President Obama was planning a coup d’etat. Other inaccurate answers supplied in featured snippets included: MSG causes brain damage and some U.S. presidents were members of the Ku Klux Klan.