Google refines its search results to curb fake news

Google is downranking fake news and giving you more chances for feedback.

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Google's quest to fight fake news isn't stopping with identifying bogus stories and an emphasis on fact-checking. The internet giant is rolling out changes to its search results in hopes of curbing both fake news and offensive material. To begin with, it's tweaking its "signals" (such as freshness and the frequency of a site's appearance) to promote more authoritative sources while downplaying the junk. Also, Google's human Search Quality Raters now have new guidelines to help them spot false stories and ultimately influence search algorithms.

You'll have more opportunities to influence the results, too. It's now much easier to flag sketchy material when it pops up in either the search box's autocomplete results or Featured Snippets (the prominent text box that sometimes appears at the top of results). If you get a conspiracy theory snippet or a racist autocomplete suggestion, you can let Google know by tapping a simple feedback link.

Google is quick to emphasize that these dodgy results are relatively rare -- just 0.25 percent are either "clearly misleading" or "offensive." However, it's not so much the frequency of these results as the image they convey and their potential for impact. The company was publicly embarrassed in December when search results for the Holocaust were topped by a white supremacist site, and there are concerns that letting fake news thrive could jeopardize real news or even skew elections. If Google can do something to thwart these fraudsters, it both looks good and helps avert disasters.