You are reading something about COVID-19 and you seem to be misinformed. You request more information from the author and he or she refers you to a Google search.
It should be mentioned here that an academic research aims to prove the truth of a phenomenon based on data, analysis and peer review.
On the other hand, a Google search returns links to content written by known or unknown authors who may or may not have knowledge in this area, based on a ranking system that either follows the user's preferences or the collective popularity of some websites.
In short, Google's algorithms can punish the truth because it is not popular.
Google Search's ranking system has a fraction of a second to rank hundreds of billions of web pages, and show them to you to find the most relevant and ideally relevant information.
Somewhere along the way, of course, mistakes are made. And it will be some time before these algorithms become infallible - if they ever are. Until then, what can you do to make sure you do not miss a thing?
One question, millions of answers
There are about 201 known factors by which a site is analyzed and ranked by Google algorithms.
Some of the main ones are:
- specific keywords used in the search
- the importance of keywords
- the relevance of the website as assessed by the ranking algorithm
- the "quality" of the content
- the usability of the website
- and other user-specific factors, such as their location and profile data that you generate from Google related products, such as Gmail, YouTube, and Google Maps.
Research has shown that users pay more attention to higher ranking results on the first page. But there are known ways to ensure that a website appears on the first page.
Another problem is that Google Search results are different for different people, even if they used the exact same search term.
The results displayed by the company are adapted to the user who performs the search. Personalized search results create alternatives to the flow of information. Users usually get more out of the issues they already have and Google thinks they care.
This leads to a dangerous phenomenon that can further polarize people's opinions and in which more search does not necessarily mean that you are approaching the truth.
An ongoing project
Although Google Search is a great search engine, it is still an ongoing project. Google is constantly facing various performance issues.
A major challenge is related to social prejudices about race and gender. For example, a Google search for "truck driver" or "president" returns images of mostly men, while the word "model" returns images of mostly women.
While the results may represent what was historically true (as in the case of male presidents), it is not always the case, or it is not representative of the world we want to live in.
A few years ago, Google allegedly ruled out the image recognition algorithms he used to identify "gorillas", since the search results showed images of black people.
Another issue highlighted by health professionals is related to people making self-diagnosis based on symptoms. It is estimated that about 40% of Australians search the internet for self-diagnosis. About 70.000 health-related searches are currently being conducted on Google Search every minute.
Of course, there can be serious consequences for those who misinterpret the information found through "Dr Google" - not to mention what it means in the midst of a pandemic.
Google has exposed a lot of false information about COVID, unregistered drugs, fake treatments, mask effectiveness, contact tracking, lockdown and, of course, vaccines.
To combat this, Google has finally given priority to credible sources in its search results. But there is so much Google can do.
Everyone has a responsibility to think critically about all the information they come across. What can you do to make sure you ask the best Google question for the answer you need?
How to Google more intelligently
In short, you should know the following:
- Google Search will take you to websites with a ranking that is more relevant to your search terms. The results you will get will be displayed by the search terms, so you should be aware that the inclusion of certain terms may affect the result.
Better to start with a simple search and add more descriptive terms later. For example, which of the following do you think is the most effective question: "Will hydroxychloroquine help treat my COVID?" or "What is hydroxychloroquine used for?"
- Quality content comes from verified (or verifiable) sources. When searching for results, look at URLs and think about whether this source is computable (for example, is it a government website, is it a university?). Continue this process as soon as you are on the page, always checking for author credentials and sources of information.
- Google can personalize your results based on your previous search history, current location, and interests (collected through other products such as Gmail, YouTube, or Maps). You can use incognito mode to prevent these factors from affecting your search results.
- Google Search is not your only option. There are many other search engines available (Bing, Yahoo, Baidu, DuckDuckGo and Ecosia). Sometimes it's good to triangle your results.
The article is by Muneera Bano, Senior Lecturer, Software Engineering, at Deakin University. Republished by The Conversation licensed under Creative Commons.
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