According to what a Google engineer told The Guardian, changes were made to the search algorithm in response to real-life crises.
A senior search engineer at Google, Pandu Nayak, said that the Google algorithm can recognize when bad events are taking place.
During such events, Google will increase the weight of ‘authority’ signals in an effort to surface the most accurate information about the crisis.
One of the things that Nayak mentioned was the rise in school shootings in the US as the main cause of the algorithm update. He noted that a lot of misinformation can come about during such unfortunate real-life events.
The increase of weight of authority signals Nayak is referring to is authority as defined in the search quality evaluator guidelines.
Google’s goal here is to reduce the amount of misinformation spread, as opposed to outright removing it from search results.
In an explaination by Nayak, pruning individual pages doesn’t do anything to solve the misinformation problem:
“… what we really want to do is to go down and understand why this problem occurred in the first place. Like, what was that in our algorithms that caused this problem to occur? And you get to the heart of the problem, you fix that, and now, even if you don’t solve the whole iceberg, you solve a large part of the iceberg.”
From this point onwards, when users search for information about a currently unfolding crisis, Google will display results from the most authoritative sources, which are determined by its quality raters.
As an example, if a massive forest fire occurs, Google will show breaking news articles for searches that are related to hurricanes, as opposed to informational, evergreen articles.
Based on this information about the algorithm change, it seems that after the crisis has passed, Google’s search algorithm would return to normal.