Not many people know that Google also outsources the work done on their algorithms that normally evaluate search results to outside contractors. Now the tech giant is giving these contractors – numbering in the hundreds – an additional task, which is to help Google down rank blatantly upsetting, offensive, and false content.
One of these contractors, Search Engine Land, already has a detailed explainer and updated guidelines used by Google’s quality raters. Those are the people that rank the accuracy and usefulness of search results to keep improving the company’s search algorithms. Remember that this system ultimately determines what ranks are given to whom.
Google raters now have access to a new “Upsetting and Offensive” flag that the tech search engine giant says should be used in the following circumstances:
- Content that promotes hate or violence against a group of people based on criteria including – but not limited to – race or ethnicity, religion, gender, nationality or citizenship, disability, age, sexual orientation, or veteran status.
- Content with racial slurs or extremely offensive terminology.
- Graphic violence, including animal cruelty or child abuse.
- Explicit how-to information about harmful activities such as guides on how to create roadside bombs or human trafficking.
- Other types of content that users in your locality or country may deem extremely upsetting or offensive.
Video Courtesy of Youtube:
Just because something is “upsetting” doesn’t mean it will rate a flagging result. For instance, when Google searched for “Holocaust History,” one search result turned up a Holocaust denial site, which from any standard deserves to be flagged. But another website from the History Channel did contain upsetting subject matter about the holocaust, but since the content is factually accurate and a source of accurate historical information, it doesn’t need to be flagged. Also, the History Channel doesn’t promote hateful content.
However, Search Engine Land has noted that even if a site is hit by the Upsetting-Offensive flag, the search engine won’t immediately demote or downrank search results. Those flags are there to be used as data points for Google’s employees as they continue to iterate on search algorithms. Eventually, the algorithm will learn to flag upsetting and factually wrong content on its own, and this can truly impact search rankings in cases where Google is aware that users are using this parameter for “general learning.”
Google is also making it clear that this new tweak in its algorithm doesn’t involve any form of censoring or to hide anything. There are simply too many gray areas in this issue. For instance, if anyone searches for a “white supremacy” website by name, Google will still deliver the site at the top of the results since it was specifically named. According to Paul Haahr, a senior executive on the Google search team, “We will see how some of this works out. I’ll be honest. We’re learning as we go.”