Google, through its advertising network Google AdSense, is monetizing multiple fake news websites spreading a bogus story that actor Bruce Willis wants critics of President Donald Trump to move out of the United States. Additionally, the made-up story is featured prominently on YouTube, which is owned by Google. This is just the latest example of Google floundering in its supposed efforts to fight fake news.
On November 27, Snopes.com flagged a “made-up news story” that circulated on fake news websites alleging that actor Bruce Willis said Trump was “doing great. In fact, he just might be the best US President ever.” The fake news articles additionally claimed that Willis said Trump’s critics should “go to Canada or something.” As Snopes noted, the fake story was based off of an October 2015 appearance by Willis on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon where he dressed up as Trump.
The fake story has gone viral, spreading to multiple fake news websites. Combined, the posts have received well over 100,000 Facebook engagements, according to social media analytics website BuzzSumo. Several of the websites running the story are using Google AdSense -- identifiable by the blue triangle in the top right corner -- to make money off of the fake story. (A previous Media Matters report found that Google AdSense was one of the most widely used advertising networks by fake news websites.) At least one of these posts with AdSense advertisements is on a website registered in Denmark.
In addition to Google AdSense monetizing the fake story about Willis, YouTube featured the fake story in its top results when one searches for “Bruce Willis.” YouTube videos promoting the made-up story have received over 85,000 views combined. Along with its parent company Google, YouTube has also claimed it has taken steps to address fake news.
Google has struggled to stop misinformation being spread through its platforms. Last week, a Google search featured a fake story about actor Keanu Reeves. Similarly, AdSense also featured advertisements on some of the websites pushing that made-up story. The fake story also remains the top result when Reeves’ name is typed into YouTube -- a full week after multiple outlets flagged it. Google’s search platform has also featured scams and false claims from far-right message boards, while Google AdSense has continued to monetize other fake news stories and race-based lies.