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.
Google Announces It Banned Some Websites Pushing Fake News From Using AdSense
Google Announced That It Booted “Nearly 200 Publishers” From Using Its AdSense Network For Violating Its “Misrepresentative Content Policy.” In a January 25 blog post, Google announced that “nearly 200 publishers were kicked out of” its AdSense advertising placement program at the end of 2016 for “misrepresenting who they are” and “deceiv[ing] people with their content.” Google mentioned that some of these banned sites (it didn’t say how many) were “impersonating news organizations.” From Google’s post:
We've had long-standing policies prohibiting AdSense publishers from running ads on sites that help people deceive others, like a site where you buy fake diplomas or plagiarized term papers. In November, we expanded on these policies, introducing a new AdSense misrepresentative content policy, that helps us to take action against website owners misrepresenting who they are and that deceive people with their content. From November to December 2016, we reviewed 550 sites that were suspected of misrepresenting content to users, including impersonating news organizations. We took action against 340 of them for violating our policies, both misrepresentation and other offenses, and nearly 200 publishers were kicked out of our network permanently. [Google, 1/25/17]
NY Times: “Google’s Bans” Of Nearly 200 Publishers Are Just “A Drop In The Bucket.” The New York Times reported that despite Google’s “steps to curb” the fake news phenomenon, the 200 publishers it targeted “were a drop in the bucket compared with the almost two million publishers that use AdSense." The article said Google is “still in the early stages” of its battle “to limit misinformation online.” After Media Matters noted that Google quietly removed language explicitly referencing fake news from its “prohibited content” policy page, Google told the Times that “the language change noted by Media Matters involved examples that help explain its policy but were not changes to the actual policy.” From the January 25 New York Times article:
Google and Facebook have been taking steps to curb the number of false news articles propagated across their sites. On Wednesday, the Silicon Valley companies showed that they were still in the early stages of their battle to limit misinformation online.
Google’s bans were a drop in the bucket compared with the almost two million publishers that use AdSense. Facebook’s new measures were part of a continuing series of small experiments by the company to find out what worked best in displaying news to its users.
Google was careful not to say that these were fake news sites, only sites that deceive users by misrepresenting themselves or their content. This month, Media Matters noted that Google changed the language of its advertising policy, removing the words “fake news.” Google said the language change noted by Media Matters involved examples that help explain its policy but were not changes to the actual policy. Google declined to identify the sites or publishers it banned. [The New York Times, 1/25/17; Media Matters, 1/12/17]
Google AdSense’s Advertising Policy Bans “Misrepresentative Content” On Websites Hosting Advertisements
Google AdSense Policy: “Google Ads May Not Be Placed On Pages That Misrepresent, Misstate, Or Conceal Information About You, Your Content, Or The Primary Purpose Of Your Web Property.” Google’s AdSense platform prohibits ad placement on sites that host “misrepresentative content,” stating that “users don’t want to be misled by the content they engage with online.” The policy prohibits pages “that misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about you, your content, or the primary purpose of your web property” from using the service:
What's the policy?
Users don’t want to be misled by the content they engage with online. For this reason, Google ads may not be placed on pages that misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about you, your content or the primary purpose of your web property.
Enticing users to engage with content under false or unclear pretenses
“Phishing” for users’ information
Promotion of content, products, or services using false, dishonest, or deceptive claims (e.g. “Get Rich Quick” schemes)
Impersonating Google products
Falsely implying having an affiliation with, or endorsement by, another individual, organization, product, or service
* Please note that these are examples and not intended to be complete or comprehensive. [Google, accessed 1/25/17]
Now, Google Should Take Action Against These Other Notable Violators Of The “Misrepresentative Content” Policy That Still Use AdSense
In addition to publishing research on specific fake news-purveying sites that still profit from Google AdSense, Media Matters has repeatedly sent information about other websites violating Google’s “misrepresentative content” policy to the company and has filed numerous “terms of service violation” forms about websites that inappropriately continue to use Google AdSense. More than a dozen fake news-purveying sites that Media Matters flagged for Google on January 12 were still hosting Google AdSense ads as of January 25. Among the bad actors that are still profiting from Google’s advertising network are American News, TruthFeed, Mad World News, and Tell Me Now.
American News, which has a verified Facebook page with nearly 5 million followers, still used Google’s advertising network as of January 25. The fake news purveyor has fearmongered with the falsehood that American teachers are no longer teaching the Holocaust because it offended Muslims, that Michelle Obama had “accidentally expos[ed] that her husband was born in Kenya,” and that President Obama’s likeness was “being considered” as an “addition to Mount Rushmore.” American News was also key in promoting the fake news story that Denzel Washington had switched from supporting Hillary Clinton to backing Donald Trump, a story shared more than 40,000 times on Facebook within six hours of publication. American News also conceals information about its operations; it has no publicly listed editors, owners, or writers (beyond a few first names), nor a business address or phone number. Here is a page on its site, accessed on January 25, with a Google AdSense ad.
TruthFeed, an established fake news-purveying website, still used Google’s advertising network as of January 25. TruthFeed has attempted to cast Democratic strategist John Podesta as a suspect in a 2007 child abduction case -- citing nonexistent “multiple reports” -- and attributed made-up pro-Trump quotes to Fox News figure Chris Wallace. It has been rated “Pants on Fire” for reporting about an imaginary Hillary Clinton voter fraud meeting as “breaking news,” and the site recently sought to instill fear by pushing bigoted fabrications about Women’s March organizer Linda Sarsour -- contributing to an online harassment campaign against the activist. TruthFeed does not appear to have any public mission statement or “about” section on its website to explain what content it produces, and it labeled many of these stories as “breaking news,” thereby misrepresenting its content and primary purpose to readers. Here is a page on its site, accessed on January 25, with a Google AdSense ad.
Mad World News
Mad World News, an established fake news-purveying website that claims to bring its audience “the truth and the stories that the mainstream media ignores,” was still hosting AdSense advertisements as of January 25. Mad World News repurposed or ignored several local news reports to push fabrications about violent refugees from predominantly Muslim countries, including a story claiming that Muslim refugees taken in by a Christian church in Sweden had vandalized the church. In fact, Swedish news outlets actually described the perpetrators as “homeless and drug addicts,” not as Muslim refugees. It also pushed a story alleging that “Syrian refugee children” raped and urinated on a young girl in a Twin Falls, ID, apartment complex, which was discredited by local news outlets. And last month, Mad World News posted a “Pants on Fire” false story claiming that House Democrats moved to introduced a government resolution “that threatens to strip us of basic rights in our nation’s first major step towards Sharia law.” Many of these posts were explicitly labeled as “news” or “world news,” yet they do not represent the stated mission of Mad World News: “bringing the truth.” Here is a page on its site, accessed on January 25, with a Google AdSense ad.
Tell Me Now
Fake news-purveying website Tell Me Now claims to publish “the hottest stories, hacks, and videos on the web.” The site was still hosting advertisements from Google’s network as of January 25. In October, Tell Me Now posted a “BREAKING” story alleging that President Obama had opened the “first FEMA concentration camp” in the U.S. for conservatives who “openly disagree with the Obama administration.” In November, Tell Me Now ran a second “BREAKING” post claiming that “800 FEMA Concentration Camps” were “Discovered INSIDE The US.” Tell Me Now purports to tackle “breaking news” and “breakthrough tips,” but these and other posts are clear fabrications. Here is a page on its site, accessed on January 25, with a Google AdSense ad.
Image by Sarah Wasko