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  • Advertisers Are Fleeing YouTube To Avoid “Directly Funding Creators Of Hateful” Content

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    YouTube is losing advertisers as big-name companies pull ads from the site because, according to a report from The New York Times, “The automated system in which ads are bought and placed online has too often resulted in brands appearing next to offensive material on YouTube such as hate speech.”

    More and more major companies are abandoning the ad services of YouTube's parent company, Google, amid concerns that ads for their brands are being placed next to extremist material. On March 22, The New York Times reported that AT&T and Johnson & Johnson “were among several companies to say Wednesday that they would stop their ads from running on YouTube and other Google properties amid concern that Google is not doing enough to prevent brands from appearing next to offensive material, like hate speech.” The decision by advertisers comes as Google has struggled in its efforts to prevent websites that peddle fake news from using its online advertising services to profit. It also comes as Google and YouTube have been criticized following a BuzzFeed News report for driving revenue for conspiracy theorists who broadcast to millions and monetize conspiracy theories like “Pizzagate,” which led to an armed confrontation in a DC-pizza shop.

    Now, The New York Times reports that “the technology underpinning YouTube’s advertising business has come under intense scrutiny” as “other deep-pocketed marketers [are] announcing that they would pull their ads from the service.” According to the Times report, the problem “is particularly jarring” for YouTube specifically, because “YouTube splits advertising revenue with its users, meaning advertisers risk directly funding creators of hateful, misogynistic or terrorism-related content.” From The Times’ March 23 report:

    YouTube is now one of the pillars of Google’s advertising business and the most valuable video platform on the internet. In recent years, advertisers, unable to ignore its massive audience, flocked to YouTube to reach younger people who have started to shun traditional broadcast television.

    But the technology underpinning YouTube’s advertising business has come under intense scrutiny in recent days, with AT&T, Johnson & Johnson and other deep-pocketed marketers announcing that they would pull their ads from the service. Their reason: The automated system in which ads are bought and placed online has too often resulted in brands appearing next to offensive material on YouTube such as hate speech.

    [...]

    That technology, known as programmatic advertising, allows advertisers to lay out the general parameters of what kind of person they want to reach — say, a young man under 25 — and trust that their ad will find that person, no matter where he might be on the internet. This approach plays to the strengths of tech giants like Google and Facebook, allowing advertisers to use automation and data to cheaply and efficiently reach their own audiences, funneling money through a complicated system of agencies and third-party networks.

    But more than 400 hours of content are uploaded to YouTube every minute, and while Google has noted that it prevents ads from running near inappropriate material “in the vast majority of cases,” it has proved unable to totally police that amount of content in real time. And that has advertisers increasingly concerned.

    [...]

    While brands have expressed concern about showing up next to unsavory photos and videos uploaded to digital platforms by users — like pornography on Snapchat — the situation with YouTube is particularly jarring. YouTube splits advertising revenue with its users, meaning advertisers risk directly funding creators of hateful, misogynistic or terrorism-related content.

    The revenue-sharing model has minted stars, some of whom gain cultlike followings for edgy and inappropriate content. Last month, the platform cut business ties with its biggest star, Felix Kjellberg, known to his 54 million subscribers as PewDiePie, after The Wall Street Journal reported on crude anti-Semitic jokes and Nazi imagery in his comedy videos. He was part of YouTube’s premium advertising product called Google Preferred — a category of popular, “brand safe” videos on YouTube.

  • Google AdSense Terminates Relationship With Anti-Semitic And Holocaust-Denying Websites After Media Matters Criticism

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC HANANOKI

    Google AdSense has apparently terminated its relationship with at least two websites that promote anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.

    Media Matters previously reported that four websites trafficking in anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial -- Counter-Currents Publishing, American Free Press, The Right Stuff, and Veterans Today -- were using Google’s online advertising program to generate revenue. Their use of the advertising program appeared to be in direct violation of Google’s policies, which state:

    Google ads may not be placed on pages that contain harassing or bullying content, or on content that incites hatred or promotes violence against individuals or groups based on race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, or sexual orientation/gender identity. Additionally, Google ads may not appear on content that incites or advocates for harm against an individual or group.

    However, pages containing educational, documentary, historical, scientific, or artistic content related to such subjects are permitted to participate in AdSense.

    After Media Matters’ January 30 article was published, American Free Press and Counter-Currents Publishing both announced that Google had dropped them due to objectionable content.

    American Free Press is an anti-Semitic print and online publication that has repeatedly claimed the Holocaust is a “hoax.”

    The publication wrote a February 8 post stating that “AFP’s web staff received a notice that Google had arbitrarily disabled our ad account for AFP’s website due to several pages that reportedly contained content that violated Google’s terms of service.”

    AFP posted a conversation in which a Google representative said that the ads were “removed for being against our policy on content that advocates against an individual, group, or organization” and that the decision is final. AFP responded to the ban by commenting: “Thankfully, AFP has built multiple revenue streams. However, any lost revenue makes it difficult to pay the bills.”

    Counter-Currents Publishing is a virulently anti-Semitic website and publisher that distributes material praising Hitler and advocating for Jewish people to be kicked out of America.

    Editor-in-Chief Greg Johnson, who has hailed Hitler for fighting and dying “for our race as a whole,” wrote in a recent newsletter, “In February of 2017, Google stopped advertising at Counter-Currents, again for politically correct reasons.”

    Media Matters on February 14 reviewed The Right Stuff and could not find any Google ads on the site. (The Right Stuff has not publicly commented on whether Google AdSense has ended its participation in the program.) Media Matters found a Google ad on Veterans Today on February 13. 

    Media Matters has also criticized Google AdSense for allowing hyperpartisan websites that post fake news to use its services. Outlets including The Washington Post and BuzzFeed have documented the financial incentive AdSense has created for those websites to publish sensationalist fake news stories to generate clicks and ad revenue.

  • Google Takes Step In Tackling Fake News, But There's Clearly More To Do

    Google AdSense Continues To Place Ads On Numerous Fake News-Purveying Sites, Despite Its “Misrepresentative Content” Policy

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN & JARED HOLT

    On January 25, Google announced that it had banned “nearly 200 publishers” from its advertising network for violating its “misrepresentative content policy.” Yet numerous notable violators of the policy that Media Matters already reported to Google remain a part of Google’s AdSense program, showing that while Google may be on the right track, the company still has more work to do.

  • Fake News Purveyors Echo Trump’s Bogus Claims Of Voter Fraud

    ››› ››› ALEX KAPLAN

    Following President Donald Trump’s vow to launch a federal investigation into his debunked claim that there was massive voter fraud in the 2016 election, numerous websites that Media Matters has identified as purveyors of fake news cheered on Trump’s call and falsely claimed there is massive voter fraud in the United States, an argument that has been repeatedly debunked. Nearly all of these websites are supported, in part, by revenue from Google’s advertising service.

  • Fake News Purveyors Cheer On, Echo Trump Team's Lies About Inauguration Crowd Size

    Many Of These Sites Use Google's Advertising Network

    ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    Following demonstrably false statements made by President Trump and White House press secretary Sean Spicer that Trump's inauguration ceremony had “the largest audience to witness an inauguration," numerous websites that Media Matters has identified as purveyors of fake news cheered on Spicer for his comments or attempted to verify his false claims. Nearly all of these websites are still supported, in part, by revenue from Google’s advertising service and many attempted to brand mainstream media reporting about the crowds as “fake news.”

  • Google Quietly Removes “Fake News” Language From Its Advertising Policy

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN & TYLER CHERRY

    UPDATE: See below for Google’s response.

    Google has removed language referencing fake news from its “prohibited content” policy for websites that use its advertising network. The policy previously stated that these sites cannot engage in “deceptively presenting fake news articles as real.”

    As of January 10, at least 20 of the 24 fake news-purveying websites flagged by Media Matters in December were still using Google’s advertising network, Google AdSense, despite Google’s November 14 announcement that it would restrict websites from using the network if they feature misrepresentative content. That announcement drew a wave of positive press saying Google was combating fake news, but it appears not to have led to the promised changes. 

    In December, Media Matters shared its findings directly with Google and asked the company to enforce its new policy. A Google spokesperson initially took issue with the characterization that it has a policy on “fake news,” stating that the company had “no policy specific to fake news.” Media Matters responded with a screenshot of Google’s policy page that explicitly cited “fake news” as an example of unacceptable content and offered additional evidence demonstrating that the flagged sites were in violation of Google’s policy.

    Google proceeded to leave the ads on the misrepresentative sites, instead quietly removing the reference to “fake news” from its much-lauded "fake news" policy.

    On December 14, Media Matters flagged 24 fake news-purveying websites -- websites that share or aggregate demonstrably fabricated stories packaged to appear as legitimate news -- using Google’s advertising service exactly one month after Google announced its ban. A January 10 review of these websites found that at least 20 of those pages are still running ads supported by Google AdSense (at least one of the websites, Observatorial, is now essentially defunct). The hyperlinked list of images at the bottom of this post shows screenshots of the sites that were still running ads that utilized Google's advertising service, which are marked with a blue triangle icon that reveals the words “AdChoices” when scrolled over and redirect to a Google ads page when clicked.

    At the time that Media Matters flagged the fake news-purveying websites for hosting Google ads, Google AdSense’s official policy on “prohibited content” included language explicitly noting that websites “deceptively presenting fake news articles as real” were prohibited from hosting Google ads. That language has since been removed from the policy page without explanation (click image to enlarge):

    Both Google and these websites benefit financially when the sites use the advertising network, which no doubt incentivizes the sites' creation of popular fake news content.

    With Google’s original announcement saying it would ban misrepresentative content from using its advertising services and the explicit reference to “fake news” in its prohibited-content policies, the company seemed to be taking concrete steps to combat the epidemic of fake news. Its public announcement drew positive press from major news outlets like The New York Times, The Atlantic, Reuters, and The Wall Street Journal, all of which hailed the restriction as applying to websites that put out fake news. But Google’s refusal to take action against websites in violation of its announced decision about misrepresentative content -- and its removal of explicit “fake news” language from its policy -- indicates that the promise to ban these problematic operators might have just been a public relations move.

    Websites Still Running Google Ads

    UPDATE:

    After publication of this post, a Google Spokesperson reached out to offer reassurance and reassert that Google remains committed to enforcing its policy against misrepresentative and deceptive content, stating:

    "We have not changed our misrepresentative content policy in any way. The policy language remains the same and we are continuing to enforce it vigilantly, just as when we launched it a few months ago. We've removed a large number of misleading and deceptive sites from our network as a result."

    Media Matters president Angelo Carusone issued the following statement in response to Google:

    While it’s reassuring to hear the revision we highlighted does not signal any wavering of Google's public commitment to addressing misrepresentative and deceptive content, we won’t be satisfied until Google enforces its policy against chronic violators, including the ones that Media Matters identified.

    Make no mistake, Media Matters is concerned with the growing ambiguity around the “fake news” terminology, which is why we published a glossary last month to clarify much of the conflation we saw in the media as the issue got more attention. Regardless of the terminology Google wants to use, the fact remains that more than a month ago Media Matters flagged 24 well-documented violators of Google’s policy for their attention and review — and 20 of them are still part of Google’s ad network, despite continuing to violate the policy.

  • Misinformer Of The Year: The Ecosystem Of Fake News And The "Alt-Right"

    Blog ››› ››› JOHN WHITEHOUSE

    An anti-intellectual alliance of misogynists and white nationalists is using cult tactics to harass and abuse Americans. They systematically attempt to discredit reputable sources. They replace logic with paranoia. They horrifically harass perceived political opponents. And this campaign, which has dangerous historical precedents, has been empowered by a fake news ecosystem and a tech industry that profits off the phenomenon.

    I. Fake News

    While reporting real news requires a newsroom and some sort of process that can be critiqued and examined, “fake news” is built to obfuscate and hide sources. Its creators are varied, from a random American making $10,000 a month from his fabricated Facebook posts to a group of teenagers in Macedonia running more than a hundred pro-Trump websites. The business model is simple: identify the news that people want to read, and give it to them, regardless of the truth and with no effort whatsoever put into actual reporting.

    There is no question that fake news got lots of attention in 2016, in part because the president-elect himself -- and several people close to him -- pushed fabricated information. That’s deeply concerning, because data shows that not only do Americans believe lies they see on Facebook, but also that Americans across party lines say fake news is a real problem.

    No one is more responsible for the rise of fake news than Facebook. It was Facebook’s platform that allowed fake news to spread far and wide. In fairness, the basic nature of the social media giant ensures that users will share lies to some extent. But the structures that Facebook built also made it easy to game. All content looks the same on Facebook, and the name of the source shows up in a small and almost unreadable font. The pages look nearly identical, regardless of their purpose or who is operating them. Of course, these factors have been in place since Facebook’s inception, but in 2016, other factors changed as well.

    In its own way, fake news is more sophisticated than real news. Sure, real news actually examines complexities that exist in the real world while fake news just makes stuff up. But fake news can be targeted to appeal to exactly what people want to see. On Facebook in particular, content can be fine-tuned to target exactly what people are likely to click on. Many private companies do this: It is called advertising. Whereas real news outlets generally post a piece once and people either read it or not, fake news can be tweaked again and again until it finally breaks through and becomes viral. And fake news outlets sometimes do have the data to go viral: Breitbart.com and Trump political benefactor the Mercer family has a company, Cambridge Analytica, that conveniently owns a lot of data on private citizens. And sitting on the board of Cambridge Analytica is Trump’s chief adviser, and the former CEO of Breitbart, Stephen Bannon.

    Facebook’s algorithm has always been extremely prone to confirmation bias, but changes in recent years seem to have allowed fake news to rise much more easily (as the algorithm is proprietary, no one outside Facebook can know for certain). In the past, at the very least, there were human editors who could manually prevent outright lies from making it onto the site’s list of trending topics. But when Facebook fired them after conservatives complained this summer, fake news really took off.

    As John Herrman explained in The New York Times:

    This year, political content has become more popular all across the platform: on homegrown Facebook pages, through media companies with a growing Facebook presence and through the sharing habits of users in general. But truly Facebook-native political pages have begun to create and refine a new approach to political news: cherry-picking and reconstituting the most effective tactics and tropes from activism, advocacy and journalism into a potent new mixture. This strange new class of media organization slots seamlessly into the news feed and is especially notable in what it asks, or doesn’t ask, of its readers. The point is not to get them to click on more stories or to engage further with a brand. The point is to get them to share the post that’s right in front of them. Everything else is secondary.

    While web publishers have struggled to figure out how to take advantage of Facebook’s audience, these pages have thrived. Unburdened of any allegiance to old forms of news media and the practice, or performance, of any sort of ideological balance, native Facebook page publishers have a freedom that more traditional publishers don’t: to engage with Facebook purely on its terms. These are professional Facebook users straining to build media companies, in other words, not the other way around.

    Google is also responsible for this burgeoning fake news empire. Google’s third-party advertising platform, AdSense, is driving mass profitability on many of these websites. When pressure started to rise about fake news, Google said it would be taking action to remove these actors from its advertising network, eliminating their ability to generate revenue. Our review showed that the company still has much work to do.

    II. The “Alt-Right”

    While some fake news is created simply for profit (think of the Macedonian teens who just see their sites as an easy way to make money), the misogynist and white nationalist “alt-right” embraces it for a more dangerous purpose: to encourage fake news readers into harassing individuals and discouraging people from taking part in public life. The fake news ecosystem is broader than just lies; many of these lies are purposeful.

    The “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory proved this link. A fake news story emerged from the depths of the internet claiming that a D.C. pizzeria with ties to certain political figures was running an underground child sex-trafficking ring. It was patently untrue. And yet mainstream reports on the story, even great in-depth reporting from truly credible sources, treated the fake news as separate from the harassment that pizzerias across the country endured from believers of the bogus claims as they spread to include other restaurants.

    Harassment is a deeply entrenched aspect of the “alt-right” community. It came to prominence with Gamergate, and then there was a wretched, bigoted campaign against black actress Leslie Jones. “Alt-right” figure Milo Yiannopoulos has now taken his harassment tactics with him on a college tour. Another example is the recent smear campaign against satirist Vic Berger by “alt-right” figure Mike Cernovich. Cernovich is no stranger to such tactics, having bragged previously about his ability to game Google to get other outlets to pick up on his smears, spreading the lies to more false headlines and more viewers. Comedian and producer Tim Heidecker has also spoken out about abuse he has received, including death-threats, as a result of "alt-right" criticism.

    The New York Times’ John Herrman took special note of commenters on pro-Trump Facebook pages:

    Nearly every page operator I spoke to was astonished by the tone their commenters took, comparing them to things like torch-wielding mobs and sharks in a feeding frenzy. No doubt because of the [Make America Great] page’s name, some Trump supporters even mistake [operator Adam] Nicoloff’s page for an official organ of the campaign. Nicoloff says that he receives dozens of messages a day from Trump supporters, expecting or hoping to reach the man himself. Many, he says, are simply asking for money.

    It is not clear to what extent this vitriol on Facebook overlaps with the “alt-right” proper (to whatever extent there even is an “alt-right” proper). But Facebook crowd-sourced virulence is at least overtly reminiscent of what is seen from the “alt-right.”

    A particular hub for the “alt-right” is Reddit’s “r/The_Donald” subreddit. As Bryan Menegus explained for Gizmodo:

    Reddit’s The_Donald subreddit was founded a year ago as the premier online meeting place for Trump supporters. It has since sought to—in CEO and co-founder Steve Huffman’s words—“dominate the conversation” on the site. Its members spread coded hate speech, openly antagonize other Redditors, and break the site’s most basic rules with impunity while moderators feel the brunt of the abuse, and Reddit leadership fail to adequately address the problem.

    This is abuse, and it is abuse for a particular political purpose. Whether it is under the guise of news or commentary, the fabricated stories bouncing around r/The_Donald, often cloaked in shockingly venomous rhetoric, do not adhere to and cannot be judged by traditional journalistic standards. This type of fake news needs to be understood in tandem with its context and purpose. Some of it is just for profit. But other pieces are intended to serve as weaponized propaganda meant to inspire harassment or even worse.

    The “alt-right” movement has been equated to white supremacy and neo-Nazis. That is broadly accurate, but the reality is a bit more complicated. More often than not, the gateway drug for this movement is sexism -- "extreme misogyny evolving from male bonding gone haywire,” as Aja Romano put it for Vox. White nationalism and neo-Nazism often come later.

    This framework also explains why the “alt-right” tilts at so many cultural windmills. Whether with boycotts against Star Wars this year, or boycotts against Star Wars last year, or boycotts against Ghostbusters or Hamilton or other notable events that women and people of color are involved in, the intent of the “alt-right” is not necessarily to be successful in the short run: The protests are intended as a statement of white patriarchy. Anyone talking about the boycott is surreptitiously sharing the message of white, male-centric cultural identity.

    Jason Wilson perfectly characterized the misogyny and bigotry of the "alt-right" when describing Yiannopoulos and his tactics:

    Yiannopoulos and the alt right certainly shared a couple of traits. First, there was a willingness to dispense with the American right’s trusty dog whistle and offer frank views on race (all the while disparaging those conservatives who were more attuned to euphemism and conciliation as ‘cucks’). Second, they shared a desire to restore white masculinity to its position as the central, reigning political identity.

    In Eugene, [OH], Yiannopoulos endorsed Trump’s call to end Muslim immigration on the grounds that fundamentalists ‘want to kill people like me’ – a preview of the full-throated Islamophobic appeal that he and others made to the LGBT community after the Pulse nightclub shooting the next month.

    But the meat of his address was a repetition of a claim he has made repeatedly in his writings and on social media: that white men, especially the working class, are being oppressed with an elitist doctrine of political correctness.

    Referring to lesbians as ‘horrendous, quivering masses of horror’ and feminism as ‘cancer’, Yiannopoulos generally castigated the ‘awful, awful, terrible, diseased and damaged people lecturing and hectoring the working class’ – those he sees as the enforcers of ‘the oppressive hegemony of social justice’. The only solution, he said, is a Trump administration.

    Members of the "alt-right" don't just preach this hatred. They mobilize it. Jesse Singal examined the many similarities the “alt-right”/fake news ecosystem shares with cults, and the role misogyny plays in attracting new members:

    But it’s the alt-right concept of so-called red-pilling where this subculture appears more similar to “traditional” cults and extremist groups. Adapted from The Matrix, “taking the red pill” or “getting red-pilled” simply means seeing the world as it really is. In the online subcultures that gave rise to the alt-right, its most famous meaning is in reference to feminism: After you take the red pill, the scales fall from your eyes and you can see that feminism is really just an attempt to emasculate and bully men, to allow social-justice warriors to run rampant over masculine (and traditional) values and ideals in favor of a shrill and judgmental far-left radicalism. Recently, the definition has expanded a bit — these days, in an alt-right context “getting red-pilled” probably means something more like “understanding that progressivism is a lie and part of a large-scale effort to hurt you and people like you.” But the basic point is the same: This is the moment at which you start to see things as they really are.

    This is exactly the sort of transformative experience offered by cults and extremist movements: After this, things won’t ever be the same for you. After this, you will have a role to play in an important battle that will determine the fate of the world. Your life will take on an enhanced meaning.

    At its core, the “alt-right” is just a bunch of men who feel powerless and resent women because of it. That’s why Gamergate is so crucial to understanding the movement; it truly was a galvanizing political event for a fringe movement that far too many mainstream people had overlooked because they were not the ones being harassed.

    III. Historical Precedent

    The “alt-right” weaponizes fake news stories that others drum up to harass and abuse opponents. Its members attack women, people of color, and the poor -- and their allies and advocates -- from “Gamergate” to Leslie Jones, to “Pizzagate” and now to Vic Berger (also see Megyn Kelly below). Radio host Alex Jones ties the conspiracy theories together and gives everything a common language. Reddit allows the herd to self-organize and quickly pivot from one harassment campaign to another. The Drudge Report tries to push these things into the mainstream. And tying the whole enterprise together is Breitbart, which was up until recently run by Bannon, now President-elect Donald Trump’s chief strategist. Breitbart is now even admitting that it will take on any Republicans who try to hurt Trump, again neatly echoing oppressive regimes of the past. Meanwhile, Trump is deliberately trying to undermine the reliability of truth itself, in a hope to push as many people as possible toward this ecosystem.

    It is possible that this abuse and harassment could escalate in the near future. While the digital tactics of pushing fake news and harassing people via social media are new, there is a precedent for this type of behavior: the “struggle sessions” in Mao’s China.

    Max Fisher explained how struggle sessions worked in The Washington Post:

    During Mao Zedong's totalitarian and often ruthless rule over China, from the early 1950s through 1976, one of the Communist Party's most unpleasant tactics for maintaining control was something called a "struggle session." On the surface, the idea was that everyone had to suss out "class enemies" and try to better their own commitment to the Communist revolution by attending regular "struggle session" meetings where they'd admit their own revolutionary failures and try to do better as individuals and communities. In practice, though, it was a form of self-reinforcing terror, a means of purging political enemies real and imagined, a tactic for working people into ideological fervor, sometimes in mass "sessions" with thousands of people.

    The systematic harassment campaign that the “alt-right” has waged through the guise of journalism is remarkably similar. Like the struggle sessions, the harassment is meant to create a sense of terror among political enemies while building a feeling of community among allies. It spreads extreme fear through communities across the country, deterring any theoretical political resistance. This abuse is meant to crush meaning in society. The more you discuss whether pizzerias have established a secret child sex ring, the more real it becomes. The more outlandish the accusation, the more effective it becomes. For both the struggle sessions and the “alt-right,” truth is no defense: You will be forced to submit. As long as members use the fake news to harass, then it is worthwhile. Engagement is not the means; engagement is the end.

    The next logical step would be something akin to book burning, which The Daily Beast says is “a peculiar form of censorship in that the act itself is intended to send a message. This is why book burning is a public spectacle. It is designed to express outrage and contains within it the notion that the ideas contained in the books or other works of art should be obliterated entirely.”

    Among American pundits, Walter Lippman alone understood the significance of what was happening when books were burned in the 1930s in Germany:

    The Nazis deliberately and systematically mean to turn the minds of the German people to war. These acts symbolize the moral and intellectual character of the Nazi regime. For these bonfires are not the work of schoolboys or mobs but of the present German Government acting through its Minister of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment.... For example ... they burn with conspicuous zeal ... Erich Maria Remarque's [anti-war book] All Quiet on the Western Front. The ominous symbolism of [this burning and] these bonfires is that there is a Government in Germany which means to teach its people that their salvation lies in violence.

    The only thing standing in the way of the “alt-right” is that it is not yet big enough to take on the entirety of American culture so directly. And yet it seems entirely possible that the movement could do something like that soon, especially if it grows emboldened by having allies in the White House. After an ISIS attack under President Trump, one can imagine the “alt-right” organizing some kind of book burning. Breitbart may even promote it.

    IV. Complicity Of Others

    The “alt-right” is the engine driving this harassment, and fake news is the tool. But it’s clear that failure of others in the media landscape helped the perverse movement get this far.

    For one, the tech industry is profiting from this activity every step of the way. Twitter’s failure to stop harassment is legendary. The Trump subreddit has grown completely out of hand. Facebook’s complicity in the spread of fake news is clear. The tech industry is so concerned with engagement that companies have been reluctant to act even when it is clear that some of that engagement is outright abuse and harassment.

    While mainstream media outlets seem to realize that fake news is a problem, they largely raise concerns only to the extent that fake news is a competitor or when the abuse is big enough that they can easily see it. There is surely fake news of every political stripe, and it should all be disincentivized. But there is no built-out ecosystem to weaponize it anywhere like there is with Breitbart, Alex Jones, Reddit, and the “alt-right.” That’s what mainstream media’s scolding about fake news and “both sides” gets wrong, time and again. In their reluctance to show the unique damage that fake news has on the right, mainstream media are continuing their biggest mistake of the Bush and Obama years: ignoring the growing radicalization of the right in America.

    And this ecosystem of fake news and the “alt-right” is entirely different from the previous right-wing media ecosystem. The previous model involved moving the audience from mainstream news to Fox News and then to the deeper trenches of talk radio and online email lists, where right-wing operators can often bilk their recipients financially. Now, things are different. Fox News’ brand of right-wing misinformation is pervasive, and over recent decades fewer people are watching mainstream news networks.

    The independence of the fake news/“alt-right” ecosystem has interesting consequences. First, members feel empowered to attack Fox News, framing it as part of the establishment media rather than an alternative to traditional sources. Aside from “Pizzagate,” the clearest example of this ecosystem is the harassment directed at Fox anchor Megyn Kelly. The first fake news story to trend on Facebook after the company fired its editors was about Kelly, falsely claiming that Fox fired her for being “‘a closet liberal who actually wants Hillary to win,’” according to CBS. Versions of this fake story featured language recently explained, she also was the recipient of torrents of online abuse from Trump supporters. The harassment may not have begun with the fake news story, but their connection seems clear. And the attacks on Fox News are not limited to Kelly -- Alex Jones

    And yet, right-wing media are still allied with and permissive of the “alt-right,” continuing to train their focus on mainstream media. Rather than concerning themselves with the issue of fake news, right-wing media use the term to attack mainstream outlets.

    In fact, right-wing media go out of their way to give space for the “alt-right” to operate. Fox News dramatically undercovered “Pizzagate” compared to other mainstream outlets. Fox News reporters (not just pundits) have dismissed the concept of “fake news” and defended the “alt-right” on air. When Facebook announced its plan to alleviate its fake news infestation, the most aghast were right-wing pundits.

    It is unclear where the phenomenon is going, but one clue may be Fox’s newest host. Tucker Carlson, Fox News’ Elf on the Shelf, is a huge favorite of “alt-right” trolls. If Carlson’s show is a success, Fox News in the future could drift more toward the “alt-right” model. (Worth noting is that Rupert Murdoch is reportedly a fan of Carlson's.) And the biggest glue tying together traditional right-wing media and the fake news ecosystem are the NRA and The Drudge Report, both of which were undoubtedly further empowered this election season.

    V. What’s To Come

    Many of the proposed solutions to fake news ring exceptionally hollow. Noting that the fake news ecosystem pushes lies will not stop the abuse; merely calling out the lies is like pointing out that rain originates in the clouds. The objective now is to protect people from the lies.

    It is long past the time for mainstream outlets to realize that the yoke of false balance empowers this ecosystem even more. The “alt-right” will turn any journalistic mistake into propaganda the very moment it occurs. A factual error will become an accidental truth. A correction will become censorship.

    There’s never been such a challenging time to be an informed citizen. Independent media are struggling financially, and mainstream media are obsessed with making everything about both sides, lest they lose a small portion of their audience. Right-wing media are telling all the traditional sorts of lies. Now a fake news ecosystem is feeding into the worst instincts of humanity while punishing anyone who dares stand up against them.

    And soon there will be a president who will validate those feelings.

  • INFOGRAPHIC: How Total Lies Thrive On Facebook

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    Facebook’s fake news ecosystem empowers false information to spread beyond fringe blogs and websites -- which often have little to no independent readership -- to achieve viral success on affiliated Facebook pages, in turn sending users back to websites and generating revenue. Facebook pages, meanwhile, also generate engagement through likes, shares, and comments, which causes Facebook algorithms to spread the fabrications to a much wider audience than they may reach on their own. Fake news purveyors generate revenue from clicks through advertising services such as Google AdSense, incentivizing them to spread more fabrications and starting the cycle all over again. To learn more about how fake news stories use Facebook to spread in practice, read our analysis of the Facebook fake news ecosystem, and for more on the fake news universe, check out the Media Matters guide to fake news terminology.

    Image by Sarah Wasko.

  • How Facebook’s Fake News Ecosystem Empowers Total Lies

    How Fake News Purveyors Used Facebook To Create The Notorious “Pizzagate” Conspiracy Theory

    Blog ››› ››› JARED HOLT & TYLER CHERRY

    Step One: A Lie Is Born

    Step Two: Fringe Blogs And Websites "Report" Baseless Claims As News

    Step Three: Fringe Sites Promote The Story On Affiliated Facebook Pages

    Step Four: Facebook Users Share Stories On Group Pages And Personal Timelines

    Step Five: Other Fake News Purveyors Copy The Story And Promote It Again On Facebook

    Step Six: Fake News Stories Become "Trending Topics" Which Makes Them Even More Viral

    Step Seven: The Lie Is Noticed And Validated By Public Figures

    Step Eight: Fake News Creators And Purveyors Make Money And Sites Repeat The Cycle

    Facebook never set out to be a hotbed of bogus conspiracy theories. But its information ecosystem and news feed algorithm proved ripe for bad actors, and purveyors of fake news have gamed the system to deceive and misinform the public -- with incredibly dangerous consequences.

    On October 30, a white supremacist-linked Twitter account posted a tweet that would develop into a national fake news story, one claiming Hillary Clinton and her allies were involved in a widespread child sex-trafficking ring. After fake news stories spread the baseless claim through Facebook, conspiracy theorists on message boards Reddit and 4Chan named a Washington, D.C., pizza parlor as a central hub in the supposed operation. The story gained further traction on Facebook from there. Weeks later, an armed man entered the restaurant and endangered the lives of patrons and employees while he attempted to “self-investigate” the conspiracy claims that Facebook’s fake news ecosystem had artificially legitimized.

    According to Media Matters’ definition of the fake news universe, fake news is information that is clearly and demonstrably fabricated and that has been packaged and distributed to appear as legitimate news. Incentivized by ad revenue or potential political gain, fake news purveyors (websites, social media pages and accounts, or individuals who share or aggregate fake news stories) have figured out how to exploit Facebook’s algorithmic curation of news -- which relies on user engagement in determining what stories to promote -- to launch outlandish fabrications into the mainstream. Fake news purveyors’ efforts to push fake news on Facebook were also made easier after the social media giant fired its human editors in August following conservative outcry over allegations of suppressing conservative news. Fake news purveyors have largely found success peddling fake news stories on Facebook by modeling the following formula, and it is with this formula that fake news purveyors used Facebook to catalyze Pizzagate’s journey from a random tweet to international infamy:

    Fake news can sprout from multiple types of content, including clickbait, conspiracy theories, propaganda, and simply made-up lies on random internet platforms. A solitary lie might not have much of an impact, but a lie weaponized in the form of a packaged “news” article to achieve political gain can have serious consequences.

    In the case of Pizzagate, a white supremacist-linked Twitter account tweeted a screenshot of a seemingly random Facebook comment that claimed an “NYPD source” said Hillary Clinton was involved in an “international child enslavement and sex ring.” The Twitter account, which BuzzFeed noted uses a profile image found on white supremacist message boards, posted the comment as fact, stating that the “rumors stirring in the NYPD” indicated a “pedophila ring” (sic) with Clinton at the center. As of December 15, the tweet had been retweeted 6,516 times and liked 5,303 times.

    Although the tweet was retweeted thousands of times, its initial reach was limited by Twitter's platform, which is smaller than that of other social media sites. According to a Pew Research Center report, only 24 percent of adult internet users said they use Twitter -- which ranks it slightly lower than LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram -- versus 79 percent who said they use Facebook.

    Fake news stories born in the fever swamps of the internet, specifically, are breathed into life when fringe websites with no regard for the source or veracity of claims package the fabricated claims as legitimate news.

    A user on the fringe web forum Godlike Productions (GLP) echoed the original neo-Nazi’s tweet, claiming that he or she had “inside sources” that confirmed at least six “members of Congress, several top leadership from federal agencies, and others” were involved in a “massive child trafficking and pedophile sex ring” fronted by the Clinton Foundation. The user claimed that members of Clinton’s inner circle of influencers “were active participants” and that the FBI and Department of Justice feared “a complete loss of public support for the federal government.”

    Fake news purveyor and conspiracy website Your News Wire published a news-style article (listed in the news section of its site) that alleged that an “FBI insider” confirmed the Clinton Foundation was a front for a “political pedophile sex ring.” Marking the point at which a lie becomes weaponized into fake news, Your News Wire cited only the GLP message board, the original tweet, and an archived thread on 4Chan’s “/pol/” (“Politically Incorrect”) message board containing a self-described “person with intimate knowledge of the inner workings of the Clinton case” as supposed evidence that “a massive child trafficking and pedophile sex ring operates in Washington.”

    Fringe websites that would not otherwise gather traffic on their own then push the fake news story to their affiliated Facebook pages. This serves both to maximize user engagement with the story (often aided by clickbait headlines) and to redirect users to their website (which is the main source of revenue for fake news purveyors, mostly because of advertising).

    Your News Wire posted its article alleging Clinton confidants were orchestrating a pedophile sex ring to the site’s affiliated Facebook page, where it has received more than 28,000 engagements -- likes, comments or shares -- since the story was first posted on October 31 through publication of this post, according to social media analytics service BuzzSumo.

    Facebook’s platform offers digital publishers access to more people than any other platform does.

    After fake information is placed into the Facebook news ecosystem and served up on users’ timelines, users recycle and share content. Because of Facebook’s algorithmic curation of news stories, the more that users engage with a story, the more of their friends see it, and so on. Users can repost fake news stories to their own or their friends’ timelines, share to another group, or cross-post to other sites like Reddit and Twitter to increase traffic to the story.

    Once a fake news story posted to Facebook starts to generate more user engagement, other fake news purveyors will often adapt the stories on their own websites. Then, after publishing the fake news to their own site, either by copying the story verbatim or by adding new, baseless details to spice up the “report,” these other fake news purveyors follow the same step as the original fake news creator: push to Facebook. As more and more fake news purveyors publish the same story on Facebook, a wider audience sees and engages with the fake story, making it go viral.

    AnonNews, a news blog claiming to be associated with hacking group Anonymous, regurgitated Your News Wire’s story verbatim in an article and in a Facebook post that has since been deleted. BuzzFeed reported that the fake news purveyor Subject Politics “introduced new, baseless claims” to the original conspiracy theory and used “an unrelated image of officers carrying seized property to create the impression the NYPD ‘raided’ something belonging to the Clintons.” Subject Politics has since deleted the article and corresponding Facebook post (which is not archived online), which had generated 113,500 engagements before the article's deletion, according to BuzzSumo. Fake news purveyor True Pundit next introduced new criminal claims to accuse Clinton of money laundering, child exploitation, pay-to-play at the State Department, and perjury. The corresponding Facebook post for the True Pundit article has since been deleted, but it generated over 164,000 engagements from when the story was posted on November 2 until publication.

    Other platforms including Reddit and 4Chan also facilitate the spread of fake news, partly by serving as a platform for fake news purveyors to post their bogus stories, but also because their users create more fabrications that fake news purveyors then package into updated fake news reports.

    After widely shared fake news stories alleging a child sex-trafficking operation in Washington, D.C., spread on Facebook for days, a Reddit user posted an elaborate conspiracy manifesto on the subreddit “r/The_Donald” that named Washington pizza restaurant Comet Ping Pong as a central location for the imaginary pedophilia sex ring. Moderators on the site have since removed the post, though discussion about it remains.

    After the user created more false claims about the pizzeria, more fake news purveyors adopted the lies into their own fake news, which in turn ended up back on Facebook. Western Sentinel uncritically published claims made on the Reddit forum as if they were fact, using the manifesto as an indication that “some form of pedophile ring that involves quite a few public figures” is operating from the Washington pizza parlor. According to BuzzSumo, in an article and Facebook post that has been since deleted and is not archived, The Vigilant Citizen published an article crediting 4Chan users for having “uncovered” the conspiracy theory.

    As fake news stories gain traction among an array of Facebook pages that traffic in hyperpartisan misinformation, more and more users see and engage with them. Then, as a story is increasingly shared, mentioned, and liked by Facebook users, its “engagement” level skyrockets. Facebook, which relies largely on algorithmic curation to determine what stories appear in its “trending” box after having fired its human editors, prioritizes engagement and rewards highly engaged stories -- those with “a high volume of mentions and a sharp increase in mentions over a short period of time” -- by making them visible to even more users. Of course, as more users see a story (precisely because it is boosted by engagement), its engagement level continues to grow, feeding a cycle of increasing engagement.

    Facebook employees cited by Quartz said “engagement is the overriding priority” for determining how the site’s algorithm curates news, more so than “avoid[ing] prioritizing misleading stories.” As more users share fake news stories, more of their friends see them; as an exponential number of users engage with a fake news story, it becomes viral; and as a fake news story becomes viral, there’s a high likelihood it could pierce into the Facebook “trending” section, where of course, it lends itself to maximum visibility. Facebook’s algorithmic prioritization of engagement ultimately ends up amplifying fake news stories.

    As BuzzFeed’s Craig Silverman reported of Pizzagate, “Thanks to just a few tweets, a couple of message board posts, and the help of some pro-Trump sites eager for traffic, this conspiracy theory generated hundreds of thousands of engagements on Facebook, reaching potentially tens or hundreds of thousands of people.”

    As fake news stories go viral on Facebook, their chance for entering into the mainstream increases. Both because right-wing political influencers have a propensity for believing and peddling bogus stories and because the viral nature of fake news stories arguably offers them a veneer of credibility (see step six), these fabrications disguised as news -- including Pizzagate -- can and often do find their way into the mouths of public figures.

    Michael Flynn Jr., son of Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for national security adviser, and a former member of the Trump transition team, for example, tweeted about Pizzagate the same day that a gunman entered the D.C. pizzeria to “self-investigate” the claims:

    When fake news-purveying sites are successful in stimulating Facebook user engagement for their content, and in turn receive traffic to their affiliated web pages, advertisements and data trackers placed on their websites can earn the site owners a lot of money. This revenue stream enables the sites to continue operation and incentivizes them to continue presenting unsubstantiated sensational claims as fact.

    Many hyperpartisan sites peddling fake news stories rely on Google AdSense to generate wealth. Online publishers can earn money through Google’s AdSense program by hosting advertisements on their websites while Google serves as a middleman between publishers and advertisers. On November 14, Google announced that it would “ban websites that peddle fake news from using its online advertising service” in order to target fake news purveyors’ revenue sources. Despite this announcement, a Media Matters analysis found that one month later, Google AdSense-linked ads still appeared on many sites that blast fake news across social media platforms. The same methodology also reveals that Your News Wire, the first site to package the Pizzagate conspiracy theory into a fake news story, is still hosting AdSense ads today alongside its original “article” about the imaginary child trafficking ring.

    Other sources of revenue for sites can come in the form of paid-to-publish articles advertising products, other ad services like Taboola, and pop-up advertisements.

    Fake News Has Real Consequences

    Fake news stories can have lasting -- and sometimes dangerous -- consequences.

    According to a Pew Research Center report, 64 percent of Americans -- including a majority in both political parties -- said fake news has caused “a great deal” of confusion about the basic facts of current events. The report states that about a third of Americans said they often see “completely made-up” political news while online and more than half said they see news that is “not fully accurate.” Fake news has the potential to undercut the public’s belief that the information they receive, even from legitimate sources of news, can be trusted.

    The power of fake news and the social media ecosystem that enables it are not inconsequential and cannot be easily dismissed. In the case of Pizzagate, what started as a random online conspiracy theory morphed into a widely shared international news story. According to a search of the term "Pizzagate" on BuzzSumo, ranging from October 30 -- the date of the initial neo-Nazi tweet that kickstarted the fake news story -- through December 19, social media users have shared web articles (including both real and fake news stories) related to the conspiracy theory more than 5.2 million times across different platforms since the lie's birth. (Buzzsumo allows users to “discover the most shared content across all social networks and run detailed analysis reports.”)

    BuzzSumo data also showed that Facebook specifically drove an overwhelming amount of traffic to Pizzagate-related articles from October 30 through November 21, when the Pizzagate rumors were officially debunked for the first time by The New York Times.

    But the debunking of the lie did not stop it. At Pizzagate's climax, police arrested a North Carolina man after he walked into Comet Ping Pong pizza parlor with an assault rifle and fired at least one shot. The Washington Post reported that the man told police he traveled to the restaurant to “self-investigate” the fake news reports alleging that the eatery was the center in a Clinton-run pedophilia sex-trafficking operation.

    Pizzagate-like tactics -- publishing a baseless smear in a news-style article format and distributing it to an eager fan base -- have also been adopted to target not just establishments like Comet Ping Pong, but also individual people. Alt-right social media personality Mike Cernovich has now used the same method of attack that made Pizzagate dangerous to attack video editor and satirist Vic Berger, urging his followers to “monitor” Berger and his Twitter followers to “find out what is going on, who these people are, what their connections are” because “they might be harming children.” By spreading the false rumor that Berger and his Twitter followers may be involved in a child sex ring, Cernovich’s “pizzagate” tactics have resulted in a flood of online harassment and death threats aimed at Berger from “alt-right” Twitter users.

    Fake news, beginning in the form of a baseless Facebook comment and eventually becoming weaponized by a cohesive machine of fake news creators and purveyors, has had and will continue to have real-life consequences unless Facebook tightens its rules for how it is allowed to thrive on its platform.

    Graphics by Sarah Wasko

  • New Pew Report: Majority Of Americans Across Party Lines Say Fake News Caused "A Great Deal" Of Confusion

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    According to a new Pew Research report, 64 percent of Americans -- including a majority in both political parties -- said that fake news has caused “a great deal” of confusion about the basic facts of current events.

    According to the study, the fake news problem is a bipartisan one: “Republicans and Democrats are about equally likely to say that these stories leave Americans deeply confused about current events”:

    While fake news became an issue during the highly charged 2016 presidential election campaign, Republicans and Democrats are about equally likely to say that these stories leave Americans deeply confused about current events. About six-in-ten Republicans say completely made-up news causes a great deal of confusion (57%), and about the same portion of Democrats say the same (64%). And although independents outpace Republicans (69% say fake news causes a great deal of confusion), they are on par with Democrats. This perception is also mostly consistent across education, race, gender and age, though there is some difference by income.

    These findings draw a sharp contrast between Americans’ perception of fake news and an active campaign by right-wing media and figures, including Donald Trump and his transition team, to downplay the existence of these false stories and attack credible news sources by blurring the lines between fake news (fabricated information presented as a legitimate news story) and real reporting. Fox host Sean Hannity called concerns about fake news “nonsense,” and conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, attempting to make fake news a partisan issue, called it “satire and parody that liberals don’t understand.” Similarly, The Washington Free Beacon’s Bill McMorris described fake news as “whatever people living in the liberal bubble determined to be believed by the right.” Trump himself tried to undermine CNN’s reporting on his executive producer credit on NBC’s Celebrity Apprentice by calling it “FAKE NEWS!” And Trump transition senior advisor and former campaign manager Kellyanne Conway asserted that “the most fake piece of news” during the election was that Trump couldn’t win.

    The report also found that Americans “collectively assign a fairly high and roughly equal amount of responsibility” for the spread of fake news to three groups: social networking sites and search engines, government and politicians, and members of the public. The survey reported that 42 percent of U.S. adults believe that social networking sites like Facebook and search engines like Google have “a great deal of responsibility” in “preventing completely made-up news from gaining attention.”

    Though Google and Facebook have announced steps to combat the spread fake news, including the policy Google adopted in November barring fake news publishers from using its advertising system, a Media Matters analysis found that Google AdSense-linked advertisements were still running on countless hyperpartisan websites peddling fake news nearly a month later. Ad revenue is a driving cause of the fake news explosion and incentivizes its spread. On Facebook, large, hyperpartisan pages that regularly peddle fake news content still remain verified.

    According to the report, nearly a quarter of Americans admitted to sharing a fake news story that they either knew at the time was made up or later found out was fake. Nearly one-third of U.S. adults reported seeing fake political news online “often,” and 71 percent reported seeing fake political news at least sometimes.

    Pew’s report comes just two days after PolitiFact named fake news the “2016 lie of the year” and about a month after the election, which saw engagement on Facebook with top fake news stories surpass engagement with top news stories from 19 major news outlets.

    Image created by Sarah Wasko.

  • Google Officials Promised To Stop Making Fake News Profitable, But One Month Later, They've Failed

    Blog ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN

    A Media Matters analysis found that Google AdSense-linked advertisements were still running on countless hyperpartisan websites peddling fake news nearly a month after Google announced it would ban these types of sites from using its online advertising service. Ads linked to Google AdSense create key revenue streams that make fake news content profitable and enable purveyors of fake news to thrive.

    On November 14, Google announced that it would “ban websites that peddle fake news from using its online advertising service” in order to target fake news purveyors’ revenue sources. Online publishers can earn money through Google’s AdSense program by hosting advertisements on their websites while Google serves as a middleman between publishers and advertisers. Google’s new policy expanded its existing ban on misleading advertisements, “including promotions for counterfeit goods and weight-loss scams, … to the websites its advertisements run on.” Google spokesperson Andrea Faville released the following statement on the new policy:

    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.

    In a report on the decision, The New York Times acknowledged that “it remains to be seen how effective Google’s new policy on fake news will be in practice.”

    Despite Google’s announcement nearly a month ago, a Media Matters search of more than 40 fake-news-peddling websites found that a majority were still displaying ads linked to Google AdSense.

    Ad revenue is a driving cause of the recent fake news explosion, in which engagement with top fake news stories posted on Facebook surpassed engagement with top news stories from reputable outlets on Facebook in the last three months of the 2016 election. As TechCrunch explained, while mainstream outlets “may be held accountable for exaggeration,” fake news purveyors “can focus on short-term traffic and ad revenue,” which “incentivize(s) misinformation.” Google turns billions in profits by allowing advertisers to use its advertising service on third-party websites.

    In November, BuzzFeed broke a story on young Macedonians running more than 100 pro-Donald Trump websites pushing fake news content. The websites’ owners told BuzzFeed that “they don’t care about Donald Trump” -- then the Republican presidential nominee -- and were “responding to straightforward economic incentives.” Detailing their strategy, they acknowledged that “the best way to generate traffic is to get their politics stories to spread on Facebook — and the best way to generate shares on Facebook is to publish sensationalist and often false content that caters to Trump supporters.” The teens then earn money from ads on their websites as a result of increased traffic via Facebook clicks. Anecdotally, BuzzFeed reported that unnamed owners earned up to $3,000 per day or $5,000 per month.

    The Washington Post’s Abby Ohlheiser detailed how fake news writers make money, with one interviewee telling her he makes “$10,000 a month from AdSense.” That same fake news writer said that if Google and Facebook “are successful in stopping fake-news sites from profiting … the effect would be devastating for his revenue.” David Carroll, an expert in advertising technology and professor at the New School, estimated that one fake-news share from a person within the Trump campaign “could earn the lucky hoaxer as much as $10,000 in extra revenue” and called it a “‘huge economic incentive to create stories that they want to distribute.’”

    In practice, Google’s announced ban can be effective in stopping websites from peddling fake news. RedFlag News, which frequently publishes fake news stories, announced on December 2 that Google had disabled its advertising service on the platform. According to the website, RedFlag News saw a “50% drop in traffic” and a sharp decline in its Facebook audience engagement in recent weeks. The site is now accepting donations to its “Facebook, Google AdSense & Twitter Emergency Fund” to stay afloat.

    Evidence suggests, however, that plenty of websites that push fake news stories have yet to feel the effects of Google’s ban, instead remaining incentivized to publish fabricated, sensationalist content without regard for the truth.

    Image created by Sarah Wasko.

  • Google Announces Steps To Ban Fake News From Using Its Ad Service, Bolder Steps Needed For Facebook

    Blog ››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

    The New York Times reports “Google announced it would ban websites that peddle fake news from using its online advertising service, a decision that comes as concerns mount over the impact online hoaxes may have had on the presidential election.” Facebook has also faced criticism over the proliferation of fake news on the site, but will need to take larger steps to address their problem.

    According to the Times, Google decided to “extend its ban on misrepresentative content to the websites its advertisements run on.”

    Google announced it would ban websites that peddle fake news from using its online advertising service, a decision that comes as concerns mount over the impact online hoaxes may have had on the presidential election.

    The decision relates to the Google AdSense system that independent web publishers use to display advertising on their sites, generating revenue when ads are seen or clicked on. The advertisers pay Google, and Google pays a portion of those proceeds to the publishers. More than two million publishers use Google’s advertising network.

    For some time, Google has had policies in place prohibiting misleading advertisements from its system, including promotions for counterfeit goods and weight-loss scams. Google’s new policy, which it said would go into effect “imminently,” will extend its ban on misrepresentative content to the websites its advertisements run on.

    [...]

    Facebook has been at the epicenter of that debate, accused by some commentators of swinging some voters in favor of President-elect Donald J. Trump through misleading and outright false stories that spread quickly via the social network. One such false story claimed that Pope Francis had endorsed Mr. Trump.

    [...]

    Google, too, faced criticism after last week’s election for giving prominence to false news stories. On Sunday, the site Mediaite reported that the top result on a Google search for the words “final election vote count 2016” was a link to a story on a website called 70News that falsely stated that Mr. Trump, who won the Electoral College, was ahead of his Democratic challenger, Hillary Clinton, in the popular vote.

    By Monday evening, the fake story had fallen to the No. 2 position in a search for those terms.

    Facebook also announced that it will ban “fake news sites form using the company’s advertising network to generate revenue,” after facing intense criticism following election of Trump because of the fake right-wing news that spread on the site throughout the campaign. But Facebook still allows fake news to be spread on users’ feeds where they can still generate revenue. Facebook officials even admit that the site could have updated their News Feed feature which would have identified fake news stories but claimed it would have “disproportionately impacted right-wing news sites by downgrading or removing that content from people’s feeds.”

    Join Media Matters in calling for Facebook to fix their fake news problem.