Google cashes in on fake news and helps support its purveyors: report

On one website page with four Google-served ads, we learn that if you don’t support President Donald Trump, God could punish you by giving you a gay child.

On another, we find out that the U.S. Supreme Court has decreed that American schoolchildren won’t learn about Islam, other than to learn how to stop radical Islam, and we get Justice Neil Gorsuch railing against “lies about Islam being a ‘religion of peace.’”

On a third, we see a photo of “Black Lives Matters thugs” blocking emergency crews from helping Hurricane Harvey victims.

These are just three of dozens of stories, identified by an activist group, that were featured on pages with ads provided through Google’s AdSense digital advertising business.

The stories are fake news — the Hurricane Harvey photo is a screen grab from a CNN video from Atlanta showing people protesting police shootings — but nonetheless the Google-served ads paired up with them are making money for their website owners, and for Google.

“Much of the public criticism about the proliferation of fake news in the past year has focused on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter,” said Media Matters, the left-leaning organization that researched the links between ad networks and fake news.

“While those platforms are vital in driving traffic to purveyors of fake news, less attention has been devoted to the series of advertising networks that help fake news websites turn those clicks into money.”

Media Matters found that three ad networks were the leading choices for peddlers of BS masquerading as factual reporting. Google AdSense ads appeared on 41 sites slinging this slop. Two other networks, Revcontent and Content.ad, had slightly lower numbers, the organization reported.

Of course, Google has rules for AdSense content. Promotion of whisky guzzling and other binge drinking is out, as is hyping smokes, under rules related to alcohol and tobacco. Showing beheadings or people getting hit by trains is also barred under the violent-content prohibition.

Although there’s no specific ban on fake news, it appears that it ought to fall under the rule against “misrepresentative content” which disallows “enticing users to engage with content under false or unclear pretenses.”

Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment and to questions such as whether its content policy actually bans fake news, or whether the company makes any effort to prevent AdSense ads from appearing on fake-news sites.

 

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

 

Tags: adsense, Black lives matter, Content.ad, digital advertising, fake news, Google, Hurricane Harvey, Revcontent

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