After launching a preliminary test in October, Google has officially rolled out an automatic fact check tag program on its search pages.
When Google determines that a search is worth a fact-check notice, that data will be placed at the very top of those search results. It will always tell users what the claim is, who claimed it, and what a fact-checking organization determined about that claim.
The trick is, you won’t find these results unless you specifically type in an oft-repeated claim, as opposed to a question. If you search for the phrase “how many undocumented immigrants are in the United States,” normal search results appear with a mix of answers and data points. Searching specifically for “34 million undocumented immigrants” will bring up a fact-check box that credits President Donald Trump with that claim, along with a direct link to Politifact’s “pants on fire” fact-check rating.
Google’s fact-checking bots will only comb certain data and research sites. They must either present their data with Schema.org ClaimReview mark-up on public pages or use the Share The Facts widget. At that point, Google’s internal processes will “algorithmically determine” whether a site is an “authoritative source of information.” Google lists some of the data points that its bots seek, including a requirement that “analysis must be transparent about sources and methods, with citations and references to primary sources.” How robots confirm that kind of content “algorithmically” without human intervention is unclear. Once a site is determined Google fact-check worthy, other terms and criteria apply.
Users are told to expect conflicting fact-checking conclusions for some search results. “Even though differing conclusions may be presented, we think it’s still helpful for people to understand the degree of consensus around a particular claim and have clear information on which sources agree,” the company’s Friday announcement states.
A cursory spin of Google’s fact-checking feature reveals that it’s mostly tied to terms and headlines that Google’s database of recognized fact-checking organizations have tackled. For example, a search for “is Politifact biased” brings up a number of sites that offer data about that site’s alleged bias, but Google may not recognize any of these sites as members of its database—and the company’s search doesn’t make that absence of “approved” data apparent to users looking for an answer.