Alphabet Inc’s Google said on
Monday it is working on a policy change to prevent websites that misrepresent
content from using its AdSense advertising network, a move aimed at halting the
spread of “fake news” and other types of misinformation on the internet.

The
shift comes as Google, Facebook Inc 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
.



Google’s move 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 were still being counted, with
Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton showing a slight lead.
Nor
does it 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 the 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.
MACEDONIA NEWS
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 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.

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