Google, Facebook will not place ads on sites distributing fake news

The move follows the prominent display of a fake story on Google search results

150817 google headquarters 3

A building at Google's headquarters in Mountain View, California, on August 17, 2015.

Credit: Martyn Williams

Google plans to update its AdSense program policies to prevent placement of its ads on sites distributing fake news.

Facebook also said Monday it had updated the policy for its Audience Network, which places ads on websites and mobile apps, to explicitly clarify that it applies to fake news.

“In accordance with the Audience Network Policy, we do not integrate or display ads in apps or sites containing content that is illegal, misleading or deceptive, which includes fake news,” Facebook said in a statement. The company said its team will continue to closely vet all prospective publishers and monitor existing ones to ensure compliance.

False news stories have become a sore point after the U.S. presidential elections with critics blaming internet companies like Twitter and Facebook for having had an influence on the outcome of the elections as a result of the fake content.

The controversy also reflects concerns about the growing power of social networks to influence people and events, as well as help people to communicate and organize. Facebook promotes democracy by letting candidates communicate directly with people, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said recently in an interview.

Google had its own embarrassing moments on Sunday with a false story that claimed that President-elect Donald Trump had won the popular vote in the U.S. presidential elections figuring atop some Google search results. Trump’s Democratic rival Hillary Clinton is leading in the popular vote.

“We've been working on an update to our publisher policies and will start prohibiting Google ads from being placed on misrepresentative content, just as we disallow misrepresentation in our ads policies,” Google said Monday in a statement. “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.”

Google evidently expects that the threat of a cut in revenue from ads will dissuade sites from publishing fake content.

Zuckerberg has described as “crazy” the criticism that fake news on Facebook's news feed had influenced the vote in favor of Trump. “Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99% of what people see is authentic. Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes,” Zuckerberg said in a post over the weekend. The hoaxes are not limited to one partisan view, or even to politics, he added.

Identifying the "truth" is complicated, as while some hoaxes can be clearly identified, a greater amount of content, including from mainstream sources, often gets the basic idea right but some details wrong or omitted, or expresses a view that some people will disagree with and flag as incorrect even when it is factual, Zuckerberg wrote.

There are concerns that the monitoring of sites for fake news and the penalties could give internet companies more power. "We have to be wary of Facebook and Google being allowed to decide what's 'fake' and what's 'true' news. That only increases their power," said Pranesh Prakash, policy director at the Centre for Internet & Society in Bangalore.

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