Google placed tricky fake-news ads on sites devoted to exposing fake news: report

With the help of Google, purveyors of outlandish falsities succeeded in getting their fake news onto websites wholly dedicated to debunking fallacious news reporting.

That’s according to a new report that comes as Google, Facebook and Twitter face the wrath of Congress over use of the firms’ platforms — allegedly by Russia-linked operatives — for spreading fake news to tilt the last presidential election in favor of now-President Donald Trump.

Now, the New York Times has discovered a highly ironic and seemingly nefarious attack on Snopes and PolitiFact, two prominent fact-checking websites, the paper reported.

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The insidious deeds took the form of ads in the form of headlines announcing, for example, that the President’s wife Melania was leaving the White House, and that televangelist Joel Osteen was leaving his wife, according to the New York Times.

The headlines were links — and clicking on them would take users further down the fake-news hole “to sites that mimicked the logos and page designs of legitimate publications,” the paper reported.

“The fake stories began with headlines and large photos of the celebrities in question, but after a few sentences, they transitioned into an ad for an anti-aging skin cream,” according to the paper.

The devious publishers had used Google’s automated AdWords system to place ads, but it’s not clear if they specifically targeted Snopes and PolitiFact, the paper reported.

“But that Google’s systems were able to place fake news ads on websites dedicated to truth-squadding reflects how the internet search giant continues to be used to spread misinformation,” according to the paper.

The accounts used for the fake ads on the fact-checking sites were nixed from Google’s ad platform after the paper inquired about them, according to the report.

“As always, when we find deceptive ad practices on our platforms we move swiftly to take action, including suspending the advertiser account if appropriate,” a Google spokeswoman told the paper. “In addition, we give publishers controls so they can block specific types of ads and advertisers.”

Snopes and PolitiFact essentially threw up their hands, saying there wasn’t much they could do, according to the report.

“Google’s AdSense, which is used by web publishers to sell display advertising on their sites, works through automated tools,” the paper reported.

“Often, advertisers are unsure where their ads are running — sometimes next to inappropriate or offensive content — and site owners don’t know which ads will appear on their pages.”

Google has a name for this type of abuse of its system: tabloid cloaking, according to the paper. The Mountain View tech giant and world leader in digital advertising said it had suspended more than 1,300 advertiser accounts for engaging in the practice. And this month, the firm said it had added more controls to help publishers block unwelcome ads.

 

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

 

Tags: AdWords, congress, facebook, fake news, Google, PolitiFact, russia, Snopes, twitter

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