Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

The text boxes that sometimes spread false information are being changed by the team behind the search engine. An update was announced by the company that is supposed to make answers more accurate and avoid the problem of false premises. There is a new partnership on information literacy lesson plans for middle and high-school students as well as an expansion of the "about this result" option.

Because they appear to directly answer questions by quoting pages, snitpets can backfire in ways that standard queries don't. Some examples of the problems and how they are being fixed were offered in a presentation by the company. For instance, when you search for how long it takes to get from the Sun to Earth, you can find a link that shows the distance from the other side of the planet.

According to Search VP Pandu Nayak, the solution is to find consensus facts that match the results. In a call with reporters, Nayak explained that this consensus check is from pages that have already been designated as high-quality by the search engine giant. It looks around the top results to see if something is legit. In order to avoid highlighting the wrong details, it hopes to look at several pages that it already trusts.

A warning on a Google search for “how to get in touch with the Illuminati.”
A warning on a Google search for “how to get in touch with the Illuminati.”

There is a problem with the "false premise" issue, where the internet giant tries to be too helpful. For a long time, if you have entered a leading question about something that never happened, you will be offered snippets that seem to confirm its factuality, drawing out-of-context text fragments from a semi- related page. One example is the Search team's example of "When did Snoopy assassinate Abraham Lincoln?" It says it has been training its systems to get better at detecting these cases and that it has reduced the incidence of them by 40 percent.

False premises are embarrassing but ‘not very common’

Some problems can be solved with snippets. The issue of dealing with seizures was identified last year and the two systems would not be able to help with it. It's important to make sure that our underlying algorithms extract enough of the context.

The goal is to make snippets go haywire less often and increase trust in search results. The warnings above unreliable search results have been put in place for about a year. When it determines there aren't high-quality results for a search, it adds an advisory before allowing people to scroll down the page to see the results. It doesn't stop anyone from seeing content, but it does help manage expectations about the information's reliability

The expanded "About this page" allows you to see details about the website a given result comes from. The option has been available on Search, but is now available in the app in English, meaning you can learn more about it. The system will be available in a number of languages over the course of the next few months.