Today, Google announced that its advertising tools will soon be closed to websites that promote fake news, a policy that could cut off revenue streams for publications that peddle hoaxes on platforms like Facebook. The decision comes at a critical time for the tech industry, whose key players have come under fire for not taking neccesary steps to prevent fake news from proliferating across the web during the 2016 US election. It’s thought that, given the viral aspects of fake news, social networks and search engines were gamed by partisan bad actors intending to influence the outcome of the race.
"Moving forward, we will restrict ad serving on pages that misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about the publisher, the publisher's content, or the primary purpose of the web property," a Google spokesperson said in a statement given to Reuters. This policy includes fake news sites, the spokesperson confirmed. Google already prevents its AdSense program from being used by sites that promote violent videos and imagery, pornography, and hate speech.
The issue of fake news on social media grabbed national attention earlier this summer, when Gizmodo reported that the team at Facebook responsible for its Trending Topics news list was suppressing links from conservative sources. The controversy called into question Facebook’s role as a primary source of news for tens of millions of Americans. The episode reportedley “paralyzed” Facebook, according to a recent report from The New York Times, leaving its leadership unwilling to make any drastic changes to the News Feed to curb the viral growth of fake news.
In fact, earlier today Gizmodo reported that Facebook had developed a tool to identify fake news on its platform, but chose not to deploy it for fear it would disproportionately affect conservative websites and cause more right-wing backlash. As it stands, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has denied his company’s role in influencing the election, calling the idea “crazy” and downplaying yet again the characterization of Facebook as a media company.
Google appears to be taking a more active role, and for good reason. Just this past weekend, a fake news link rose to the top of Google search results for the question “who won the popular vote,” falsely claiming the answer to be President-elect Donald Trump. Now, it seems those sites that have learned to game the search and social network algorithms of Silicon Valley’s most influential companies may lose a crucial source of funding going forward.