Alphabet Inc’s Google will put more of a premium on “diverse perspectives” in its search results, saying in a blog post on Tuesday that answers highlighted at the top of result pages would soon display multiple viewpoints on topics for the first time ever. The move comes as internet companies face increasing political pressure to rid their services of misleading or fake news, extremist content and hoaxes. Google said it was also is considering new labelling so its users could see when a featured answer is an imperfect match based on a proximate question. Other changes announced by Google last year were aimed at helping stem conspiracy theories and offensive information from making it into the highlighted results, which Google calls “featured snippets.” Google typically plucks snippets from third-party websites and shows them in a large box before the traditional list of links in search results. Snippets are relied on by Google’s virtual assistant to read out answers to searches conducted through smart speakers such as the Google Home. The company introduced featured snippets four years ago to get people to desired information faster.
But the feature has drawn scrutiny for highlighting inaccurate answers, with mishaps last year including snippets that said women were evil and that former US President Barack Obama was planning a coup. The latest changes address queries such as “are reptiles good pets,” Danny Sullivan, Google’s public liaison for search, wrote in the blog post. Google tries to answer with information “strongly aligned” with the search so a webpage contending reptiles are nice pets would likely be shown, Sullivan said. But users ultimately want to know how reptiles rate as pets one way or the other. The featured snippet for “are reptiles bad pets” would be valuable too even if it contradicts the first snippet, he said. If Google succeeds in delivering multiple viewpoints in one answer for other queries, it could help lead users away from potentially skewed results when looking up topics such as “is the Earth flat” and “are vaccines dangerous.” “There are often legitimate diverse perspectives offered by publishers, and we want to provide users visibility and access into those perspectives from multiple sources,” Matthew Gray, Google’s software engineer overseeing featured snippets, was quoted in the blog post as saying. The display for multiple featured snippets and how they would be presented over voice search has not been determined, Google said.