Google, Facebook move to curb ads on fake news sites

Shift comes as Google, Facebook and Twit­ter face back­lash

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

Al­pha­bet Inc’s Google and Facebook Inc on Mon­day an­nounced mea­sures aimed at halt­ing the spread of “fake news” on the in­ter­net by tar­get­ing how some pur­vey­ors of phony con­tent make money: ad­ver­tis­ing. Google said it is work­ing on a pol­icy change to pre­vent web­sites that mis­rep­re­sent con­tent from us­ing its AdSense ad­ver­tis­ing net­work, while Facebook up­dated its ad­ver­tis­ing poli­cies to spell out that its ban on de­cep­tive and mis­lead­ing con­tent ap­plies to fake news.

The shift comes as Google, Facebook and Twit­ter Inc face a back­lash over the role they played in the US pres­i­den­tial elec­tion by al­low­ing the spread of false and of­ten ma­li­cious in­for­ma­tion that might have swayed vot­ers to­ward Repub­li­can can­di­date Don­ald Trump.

The is­sue has pro­voked a fierce de­bate within Facebook es­pe­cially, with Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Mark Zucker­berg in­sist­ing twice in re­cent days that the site had no role in in­flu­enc­ing the elec­tion.

Facebook’s steps are lim­ited to its ad poli­cies, and do not tar­get fake news sites shared by users on their news feeds. “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, adding that it will con­tinue to vet pub­lish­ers to en­sure com­pli­ance.

Google’s move sim­i­larly does not address the is­sue of fake news or hoaxes ap­pear­ing in Google search re­sults. That hap­pened in the last few days, when a search for ‘fi­nal elec­tion count’ for a time took users to a fake news story say­ing Trump won the pop­u­lar vote. Votes are still be­ing counted, with Demo­cratic can­di­date Hil­lary Clin­ton show­ing a slight lead.

Nor does Google sug­gest that the com­pany has moved to a mech­a­nism for rat­ing the ac­cu­racy of par­tic­u­lar articles. Rather, the change is aimed at as­sur­ing that pub­lish­ers on the net­work are le­git­i­mate and elim­i­nat­ing fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives that ap­pear to have driven the pro­duc­tion of much fake news.

“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 said in a state­ment. The com­pany did not de­tail how it would im­ple­ment or en­force the new pol­icy.

AdSense, which al­lows ad­ver­tis­ers to place text ads on the mil­lions of web­sites that are part of Google’s net­work, is a ma­jor source of money for many pub­lish­ers. A re­port in Buz­zFeed News last month showed how tiny pub­lish­ers in Mace­do­nia were cre­at­ing web­sites with fake news - much of it den­i­grat­ing Clin­ton - which were widely shared on Facebook.

That shar­ing in turn led peo­ple to click on links which brought them to the Mace­do­nian web­sites, which could then make money on the traf­fic via Google’s AdSense.

Facebook has been widely blamed for al­low­ing the spread of on­line mis­in­for­ma­tion, most of it pro-Trump, but Zucker­berg has re­jected the no­tion that Facebook in­flu­enced the out­come of the elec­tion or that fake news is a ma­jor prob­lem on the ser­vice. “Of all the con­tent on Facebook, more than 99 per­cent of what peo­ple see is au­then­tic,” he wrote in a blog post on Satur­day. “Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes.” Google has long had rules for its AdSense pro­gram, bar­ring ads from ap­pear­ing next to pornog­ra­phy or vi­o­lent con­tent. Work on the pol­icy up­date an­nounced on Mon­day be­gan be­fore the elec­tion, a Google spokes­woman said. The com­pany uses a com­bi­na­tion of hu­mans and ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence to re­view sites that ap­ply to be a part of AdSense, and sites con­tinue to be mon­i­tored af­ter they are ac­cepted, a for­mer Google em­ployee who worked on ad sys­tems said. Google’s ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence sys­tems learn from sites that have been re­moved from the pro­gram, speed­ing the re­moval of sim­i­lar sites. The is­sue of fake news is crit­i­cal for Google from a busi­ness stand­point, as many ad­ver­tis­ers do not want their brands to be touted along­side du­bi­ous con­tent. Google must con­stantly hone its sys­tems to try to stay one step ahead of un­scrupu­lous pub­lish­ers, the for­mer em­ployee said. Google has not said whether it be­lieves its search al­go­rithms, or its sep­a­rate sys­tem for rank­ing re­sults in the Google News ser­vice, also need to be mod­i­fied to cope with the fake news is­sue. Fil Menczer, a pro­fes­sor of in­for­mat­ics and com­put­ing at In­di­ana Univer­sity who has stud­ied the spread of mis­in­for­ma­tion on so­cial me­dia, said Google’s move with AdSense was a pos­i­tive step.

“One of the in­cen­tives for a good por­tion of fake news is money,” he said. “This could cut the in­come that cre­ates the in­cen­tive to cre­ate the fake news sites.” How­ever, he cau­tioned that de­tect­ing fake news sites was not easy. “What if it is a site with some real in­for­ma­tion and some fake news? It re­quires spe­cial­ized knowl­edge and hav­ing hu­mans (do it) doesn’t scale,” he said. — Reuters

BRUS­SELS: The Google logo is seen at the Google head­quar­ters in Brus­sels. Google’s search en­gine is high­light­ing an in­ac­cu­rate story claim­ing that US Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump won the pop­u­lar vote in the Nov 8, 2016, elec­tion, the lat­est ex­am­ple of bo­gus in­for­ma­tion spread by the in­ter­net’s gate­keep­ers. —AP

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