Websites Peddling Fake News Still Using Google Ads Nearly A Month After Google Announced Ban
Research ››› ››› BRENNAN SUEN, JARED HOLT & TYLER CHERRY
Websites circulating fake news were still using Google’s online advertising service as of December 12, nearly one month after Google announced it would ban such sites from using its advertising platform as a revenue source.
Google Bans Websites Peddling Fake News From Using Its Advertising Service
Nov. 14: Google Bans “Websites That Peddle Fake News From Using Its Online Advertising Service.” According to The New York Times, on November 14, Google announced it would ban fake news websites from using its online advertising service in order to cut off their revenue sources. The ban was said to take effect “imminently”:
Over the last week, two of the world’s biggest internet companies have faced mounting criticism over how fake news on their sites may have influenced the presidential election’s outcome.
On Monday, those companies responded by making it clear that they would not tolerate such misinformation by taking pointed aim at fake news sites’ revenue sources.
Google kicked off the action on Monday afternoon when the Silicon Valley search giant said it would ban websites that peddle fake news from using its online advertising service.
Google’s decision on Monday 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.
“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 spokesperson Andrea] Faville said. [The New York Times, 11/14/16]
Google AdSense “Prohibited Content” Policies Now Specifically Single Out “Deceptively Presenting Fake News Articles As Real.” Google’s support page explaining its official policies about what types of pages cannot host Google AdSense advertising further explains the new policy banning “misrepresentative content” (original emphasis):
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 (e.g. deceptively presenting fake news articles as real)
- "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 [Google Support, AdSense Help, accessed 12/13/16]
Google AdSense Ads Are Marked By A Triangular AdChoices Icon That Hyperlinks To An “About Google Ads” Page
In 2011, Google Began Marking Placed Ads With The Industry-Wide Blue Triangle Symbol And The Words “AdChoices.” Beginning in 2011, Google announced that its placed advertisements would be marked with a blue triangle icon and the words “AdChoices,” in compliance with a newly developed online advertising industry decision. Google’s announcement explained that, when users clicked on the “AdChoices” icon for an ad sponsored by Google, they would be directed to more information from Google’s website about the specific ads they were shown. [Google Blog, 3/21/11; accessed 12/12/16]
Websites Peddling Fake News Are Still Using Google’s Advertising Services
Wall Street Journal: “Many Google-Placed Ads, Including Those For Big Brands, Continue To Appear On” Sites With “‘Deceptive Or Misrepresentative’ Content.” The Wall Street Journal reported on December 8, nearly one month after Google announced initiatives to block websites with “‘deceptive or misrepresentative’ content” from using its ad service, “enforcement appears spotty.” The Journal explained that “many Google-placed ads … continue to appear on the sites, even including ads for Google’s new Pixel smartphones.” Google responded that the company was still “in the process of implementing the new policy”:
Google, the biggest player in digital advertising, said it would stop placing ads on sites with “deceptive or misrepresentative” content. But so far, enforcement appears spotty: Many Google-placed ads, including those for big brands, continue to appear on the sites, even including ads for Google’s new Pixel smartphones.
In a statement, Google said, “We’re in the process of implementing the new policy and these early stages have demanded increased human review.” [The Wall Street Journal, 12/8/16]
Media Matters Found Google-Hosted Ads On At Least 24 Websites That Are Known To Push Fake News Stories. Media Matters found advertisements placed by Google on at least 24 websites that have a track record for pushing fake news stories -- stories with fabricated information packaged to appear as a legitimate news story. The sites listed below all featured ads marked by the “AdChoices” icon that hyperlinked the user to Google’s information page about its advertising services. All screenshots were taken on December 12.
- America's Freedom Fighters
- The Angry Patriot
- Before It's News
- Conservative Daily Review
- DC Gazette
- Eagle Rising
- Freedom Daily
- Gateway Pundit
- GOP The Daily Dose
- Mad World News
- Mr. Conservative
- The Political Insider
- Political Reviewer
- Right Wing News
- Supreme Patriot
- Tell Me Now
- USA Politics Today
- US Chronicle
- Web Daily
- Western Journalism
On December 31, 2015, America’s Freedom Fighters posted a story claiming that “Obama Allows Nation’s First SATANIC Ceremony at State Capitol In History… .” Debunking site Snopes.com evaluated this claim and concluded that the ceremony “was neither literally Satanic nor in any way sanctioned by President Obama.”
The Angry Patriot posted a story claiming that Hillary Clinton paid former Apprentice contestant Summer Zervos $500,000 to accuse Donald Trump of sexual assault. Debunking site Snopes.com traced the claim to Charles C. Johnson’s website GotNews, which alleged Zervos was paid by lawyer Gloria Allred -- not Clinton -- and “provided no evidence to back up their claim, which was based entirely on a comment made by an unidentified source.”
In May, the Conservative Daily Review posted a “BREAKING ALERT” detailing the “13 States Obama Is Using For His Secret Agenda.” The story claimed that the Obama administration was planning to open refugee camps in exclusively Southern states, and suggested that members of President Obama’s cabinet had spoken to the site directly. The Conservative Daily Review has also posted stories presenting details of the Pizzagate conspiracy theory as fact.
In October, the DC Gazette posted a story citing an anonymous source, “supposedly” a member “of the technical crew” from the NBC Commander-in-Chief Forum in September 2016, alleging that Hillary Clinton had a “massive profanity-laced tirade” and threw a glass of water after the event. Debunking site Snopes.com traced the details of this story back to “a fictitious quote” that gathered steam with additional fake quotes and anonymous sources and gained traction in a “highly embellished” email.
In October, Eagle Rising posted a story claiming that Hillary Clinton was “Planning Her Escape After Trump Win With a $1.8 BILLION Money Transfer to QATAR.” The post cited another website, which sourced its original claim from “conspiracy-mongering fake news” site (as Snopes.com put it) WhatDoesItMean.com.
In December, Freedom Daily posted an article claiming that the Obama family “basically just flipped Trump off” by hanging “a portrait of Hillary Clinton prominently among numerous amounts of Christmas decorations” in the White House. Debunking site Snopes.com traced the claim back to a real portrait of Clinton that “has been hanging in the White House since 2004, when it was unveiled by President George W. Bush” and explained that Freedom Daily’s article was “distorted.”
The Gateway Pundit is a disreputable blog that has long been known for completely fabricating stories and grossly misrepresenting facts. In November, for example, Snopes.com found that Gateway Pundit had published an article “reporting that paid anti-Trump protesters were shipped into Austin.” Snopes explained, “The web site published three pictures of buses and then fabricated a story about paid protesters based on the mistaken observations of a sole Twitter user.”
In January, GOP The Daily Dose posted a video that the site used to claim that United Nations troops were “ordered to kill all Americans” who do not hand over their guns. Snopes.com examined the video and found that “the 21-minute long broadcast” had been uploaded in July 2012 and “at no point said or even hinted that the UN had imminent (or long-term) plans to kill all gun-owning Americans.”
On December 7, anti-Muslim site Mad World News posted a story claiming that Muslim refugees taken in by a Christian church in Sweden vandalized the church. Snopes.com found no evidence that Muslim refugees were behind the acts of vandalism, writing that, “It's unclear where the web site came up with the claim that Muslim people were committing these depraved acts (or what country they were purportedly from) as Swedish language news sources make no such claim. SVT News reports the perpetrators are ‘homeless and drug addicts.’”
In October, the Mr Conservative blog published an article that claimed “many towns in Sweden” had banned Christmas light decorations “to avoid offending the millions of Muslim migrants that have flooded their country.” Debunking site Snopes.com tracked the claim to a news item posted by a Swedish news service that stated that the Swedish Transport Administration is banning the lights on the street poles it manages for two reasons: “first, [Swedish] law doesn't authorize the agency to share its electricity, and second, the poles aren't designed to bear extra weight, so Christmas decorations are a safety hazard.” Snopes.com reported that “though there wasn't a single mention of religion, immigrants, or refugees in the original report,” some sites “quickly recast it as a ‘War on Christmas’ story” although “nothing could be further from the truth.”
In October, Observatorial posted an article that claimed a “60-foot version of President Barack Obama’s face will eventually be carved into Mount Rushmore,” alleging that Obama previously said, “I deserve a monument.” Debunking site Snopes.com tracked the claim and found “no record of President Obama's having made any remarks” like the ones Observatorial alleged, and it noted that the U.S. National Park Service has said that “there’s simply no room for any more additions” to Mt. Rushmore.
In November, The Political Insider published a (since deleted) photo it claimed portrayed a naked Bill Clinton receiving a massage from a woman. Fact-checking site PolitiFact gave the claim its highest false rating, “Pants On Fire,” and traced the alleged “bombshell” photo to a British artist whose portfolio features “placing celebrities and prominent figures in compromising situations.”
On December 8, Political Reviewer posted a story claiming that “Thanks To Trump,” the city of Philadelphia is planning to convert an old school into affordable housing units for seniors and veterans rather than tearing the building down. The text of the article offers no citation, but it references a partnership between the city and a nonprofit that was made public months before the election and does not appear connected to Donald Trump in any way.
In August, Prntly posted a story claiming that “open marriage allegations dog Clinton VP pick Kaine,” citing a screenshot of a fabricated tweet attributed to then-vice presidential candidate Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA).
In November, Right Alerts aggregated a “breaking” news alert that Hillary Clinton did not win the popular vote during the 2016 election because of “voter fraud on an unimaginable scale.” Fact-checking site PolitiFact examined the claim after Trump made a nearly identical statement, rating it “Pants On Fire” false and finding that voter fraud “is nowhere near common enough to call into question millions and millions of votes.”
On July 20, 2015, Right Wing News posted an article asserting that President Obama “ordered” military recruitment officers in Tennessee “to cower and hide by telling them to stop wearing their uniforms.” Snopes.com rated the article as “mostly false,” adding that “the measure” -- which came from within the Marine Corps, not from Obama -- “was described as temporary and as one part of a larger response to an increased threat level following the July 2015” shootings in Chattanooga, TN.
In August, Supreme Patriot’s Facebook page shared a video purporting to show an Obama-“enforce[d]” Islamic prayer led in the U.S. House of Representatives. Snopes.com labeled the claim “false,” explaining that the original footage showed one of several Islamic opening prayers that have been delivered by imams in the House since 2000, as part of a program that includes opening prayers from many faiths. The prayer was “neither instigated nor ‘enforced’ by President Obama.”
In November, Tell Me Now’s John Trent wrote a piece headlined “Woman Investigating Clinton Foundation Child Trafficking Found Dead!” and reported that Monica Petersen was “investigating ‘the Clintons [sic] possible ties to a pedophile ring’” before she died suspiciously. The Washington Post’s Fact Checker rated the claim “Four Pinocchios,” noting that the “sex trafficking ring involving Hillary Clinton” was nonexistent and that Petersen “had gone to Haiti a number of times but was not there to research human trafficking and was not investigating the Clinton Foundation.” Snopes.com also said Tell Me Now’s reporting was “unproven.”
In November, TruthFeed posted an article that claimed Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta and his brother Tony were involved in the abduction of Madeleine McCann, building upon conspiracy theories that claimed Podesta was involved in a child sex trafficking ring. Debunking site Snopes.com refuted claims that “a secret society of pedophiles” involving Podesta existed and sourced the claims to conspiracy theories posted on public messaging boards.
In November, USA Politics Today claimed that Hillary Clinton ordered former House Speaker Dennis Hastert’s arrest at the behest of “Jake Siewert from Goldman Sachs,” proving that Clinton “is owned by the big banks” and can “make someone disappear” if she’s asked to by Wall Street. The claim is entirely unsubstantiated -- Hastert was investigated by the FBI and his arrest was ordered by Judge Thomas M. Durkin of Federal District Court.
A US Chronicle headline claimed that President Obama “Wants To Shut Down Judge Pirro After She Exposes Damaging Leaked Info About Him.” But the article body contains no details of either the fabricated headline or the story’s claim that Pirro is now a “political enemy of the White House.”
In December, WebDaily claimed that President Obama hung Hillary Clinton’s portrait in the “White House as a ‘Christmas Decoration.” The debunking site Snopes.com reported, however, that “This portrait was not hung by President Obama in 2016 as part of the holiday decorations; it has been at the White House since 2004.”
In April 2014, Western Journalism claimed that a group of “Saudi Muslims permanently sewed together” the lips of a girl who claimed Jesus is her “‘personal savior,’” so that “she could no longer speak and sewed together one of her eyes.” The debunking site Snopes.com rated the claim false and said that the “photograph has nothing to do with either Saudi Arabia or religious persecution: it's just another example of graphic images being repurposed and attached to fictitious backstories that offer them as supposedly real-life examples of Muslims torturing Christians.”