Facebook, Google take aim at fake news by blocking ad revenue

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is seen on stage during a town hall at Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, California, in 2015. Photo by Stephen Lam/Reuters

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is seen on stage during a town hall at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California, in 2015. Photo by Stephen Lam/Reuters

Facebook and Google banned fake news sites from collecting funds via their advertising platforms on Monday, after criticism that the two companies were too slow to address sites that deliberately spread misinformation before the presidential election.

Throughout the election cycle, sites peddling false information garnered revenue through user clicks on ads featured on Facebook and Google. Critics claim that the unwillingness of the two tech giants to crackdown on those sites has enhanced political hyperpartisanism on and off social media.

Here’s an example posted by Dan Barker, a digital analytics consultant:

The ‘poster child’ of Facebook Fake News is this post: “FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead…“. It appeared a few days before the U.S. presidential election, and was shared a phenomenal number of times (567,752 according to Facebook’s API). It turned out the “Denver Guardian” does not actually exist – the site is just a shell set up to spread fake news, registered under an anonymous domain owner.

Facebook works with publishers that want to monetize ads through its social media network. Ads from third-party apps and sites appear on users’ newsfeeds, where clicks generate revenue for both Facebook and the publisher.

On Monday, Facebook announced an update to its publisher agreement — called its Audience Network Policy — to ban “fake news,” though the company holds that false information on such sites has always been prohibited ad content.

“While implied, we have updated the policy to explicitly clarify that this applies to fake news,” a Facebook spokesperson wrote in a statement to the NewsHour. “Our team will continue to closely vet all prospective publishers and monitor existing ones to ensure compliance.”

The company did not comment on what it was doing to address fake news stories shared by users.

Earlier this month, BuzzFeed discovered a network of Macedonian-run sites that made money by generating hundreds of thousands of shares on Facebook with fake news stories that often had pro-Trump slants. Six of 10 Americans get their daily news from social media, according to Pew Research Center.

Google’s software AdSpace helps sites make money by placing Google-sponsored ads within them. The company announced Monday it now prohibits ads placed on “misrepresentative content.”

“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 wrote in a statement to the NewsHour.

Like Facebook, stopping false information advertising is only part of the problem for Google. Over the weekend, the top hit on Google News was a fake story, which had President-elect Donald Trump leading the popular vote by almost 700,000 votes. Hillary Clinton currently leads the popular vote tally by almost 800,000 votes.

Last week, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg came under fire for misinformation spread on the social media platform in the leadup to the election. He said it was “crazy” to think that fake news proliferated on Facebook influenced the outcome, the Associated Press reported.

“There’s an entire political team and a massive office in D.C. that tries to convince political advertisers that Facebook can convince users to vote one way or the other,” former Facebook employee and author Antonio Garcia-Martinez told NPR. A batch of renegade Facebook employees reportedly formed an unofficial task force last week to tackle the issue.

“Then Zuck gets up and says, ‘Oh, by the way, Facebook content couldn’t possibly influence the election.’ It’s contradictory on the face of it,” Garcia-Martinez said.

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