Investigating the Effects of Google’s Search Engine Result Page in Evaluating the Credibility of Online News Sources

Emma Lurie (emma.lurie AT, Wellesley College
Dr. Eni Mustafaraj (eni.mustafaraj AT, Wellesley College

Recent research has suggested that young users are not particularly skilled in assessing the credibility of online content. A follow-up study comparing students to fact checkers noticed that students spend too much time on the page itself, while fact checkers performed “lateral reading”, searching other sources. We have taken this line of research one step further and designed a study in which participants were instructed to do lateral reading for credibility assessment by inspecting Google’s search engine result page (SERP) of unfamiliar news sources. In this paper, we summarize findings from interviews with 30 participants. A component of the SERP noticed regularly by the participants is the so-called Knowledge Panel, which provides contextual information about the news source being searched. While this is expected, there are other parts of the SERP that participants use to assess the credibility of the source, for example, the freshness of top stories, the panel of recent tweets, or a verified Twitter account. Given the importance attached to the presence of the Knowledge Panel, we discuss how variability in its content affected participants’ opinions. Additionally, we perform data collection of the SERP page for a large number of online news sources and compare them. Our results indicate that there are widespread inconsistencies in the coverage and quality of information included in Knowledge Panels.
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Anonymized user study credibility signal data. Link
January 2018 USNPL SERP feature data. Link
February 2018 USNPL SERP feature data. Link
January 2018 partisan sites SERP feature data. Link
February 2018 partisan sites SERP feature data. Link

If you are interested in viewing the January 2018 and February 2018 SERP html pages for the above datasets, please contact the authors.