Google framed the problem as a quality issue. “Today, in a world where tens of thousands of pages are coming online every minute of every day, there are new ways that people try to game the system,” Ben Gomes, vice president of engineering, said in an official blog post.
According to Google, approximately 0.25 percent of its results “have been returning offensive or clearly misleading content.” The company didn't specify how many queries that really is — but the search-engine-focused news site Search Engine Land reported that Google estimated in 2015 that it handles 3 billion searches per day. Some back-of-the-envelope math suggests that users could be seeing as many as 7.5 million misleading results every day.
Users will see options to report bad information that shows up in “Featured Snippets” — a.k.a., the little summary boxes that appear at the top or sides of Google searches. They will also be able to report offensive autocomplete suggestions — the suggested phrases that show up when you begin typing a query in the search engine.
Users can report suggestions for being hateful, explicit or violent. For the snippets, users can also report when the summaries are inaccurate.
Google has also tweaked its search algorithms to ensure that “low-quality” content shows up lower in search results, which should minimize their reach. This should address issues such as one Google dealt with last year, when a prominent Holocaust denial site showed up at the top of search results for “did the holocaust happen.”
Since the U.S. election, several companies, including Google and Facebook, have taken steps to deal with false information that looks legitimate being passed through their products. In the past, both companies have been hesitant to step in and provide quality controls for information that appears on their products, preferring instead to let their algorithms weed out bad results.
Google has previously revamped its advertising policies to make it less profitable for anyone to publish fake news.
And like Facebook, Google has recently undertaken broader efforts to fight misleading information and hate speech online. The company has started pairing some claims online with fact-check articles, which say whether a claim is true or false. It has also released a tool for developers to let them automatically moderate online messages better.
Google users will start seeing the reporting options Tuesday. This particular effort has been underway since mid-December, Google spokeswoman Susan Cadrecha said in an email.