Google failing in pledge to keep its ads off fake-news websites: report

A month ago, Google pledged to ensure the ads sold though its AdSense program wouldn’t go onto fake news sites.

But so far, the Mountain View tech titan is largely failing to stop the ads from generating money for purveyors of fake news, according to a just-released report.

“Google AdSense-linked advertisements were still running on countless hyper-partisan websites peddling fake news nearly a month after Google announced it would ban these types of sites from using its online advertising service,” said the report by watchdog group Media Matters for America.

Both Google and Facebook had made the fake-news advertising pledge, The New York Times reported.

“The decisions were a clear signal that the tech behemoths could no longer ignore the growing outcry over their power in distributing information to the American electorate,” the paper said.

Media Matters combed through more than 40 “fake-news-peddling” websites and discovered that “a majority were still displaying ads linked to Google AdSense,” the group reported.

Publishers of fake news websites make money from ads that run on them, and that revenue is “a driving cause of the recent fake-news explosion,” Media Matters said.

“Plenty of websites that push fake news stories have yet to feel the effects of Google’s ban, instead remaining incentivized to publish fabricated, sensationalist content without regard for the truth,” according to the group.

Google declined to comment, so the degree to which it has attempted to meet its pledge is unclear. Media Matters reported that purported fake-news publisher RedFlag News announced Dec. 2 that Google had disabled Google advertising service on the RedFlag platform, which led to a 50 percent drop in traffic at the site.

“Google’s announced ban can be effective in stopping websites from peddling fake news,” Media Matters concluded.

The group did not include any research results related to Facebook’s fake-news pledge.

It’s worth pointing out that defining “fake” news can be difficult, and Google may be operating under a different definition than Media Matters. Many websites, including RedFlag, trade in highly pointed suggestions rather than explicit falsehoods. RedFlag, for example, is currently running a story that suggests, but does not overtly state, that CIA director John Brennan is a “Muslim convert.”

That story, however, links to a website called D.C. Clothesline that falls more clearly into the fake-news realm, with stories including one claiming President Barack Obama admitted in “projection code” and “thoughtprint pattern” that his presidency was illegal.

D.C. Clothesline did not appear to be running any ads from Google services.


Photo: A Google data center in Council Bluffs, Iowa.  (Connie Zhou/Google via AP)


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