Google has decided to penalize websites that keep publishing fake news. The search engine provider will sever support for its ad network, thereby drying up these sites’ primary revenue source.
Google will now act on websites that actively peddle false or incorrect news. It is apparent the search engine platform is reacting to the intense criticism for search results that put forth sites which attempted to influence the presidential election’s outcome. Fake news sites proliferated at an alarming rate during the 2016 U.S. election. Moreover, the common assumption that Donald Trump has already won the election may have been influenced by Google after it reportedly put a website with erroneous and dubious sources on top of its search results.
Last week, Google and Facebook were awash with websites that attempted to strongly influence the presidential election’s outcome by putting forth results that were not just incomplete, but many-a-times were completely false, reported New York Magazine. Many of the these platforms cited “credible” sources that, upon investigation, were either found to be non-existent, or were based on biased and obscure origins. However, quite a few of the articles featured on these sites found their way to the top of the search results, subtly implying that the information they shared was accurate and true.
While the actual agenda might have been to influence the election’s outcome, it is apparent these websites were trying to make the most of the situation, and cash in on the insatiable hunger for information during one of the most talked about occasions in America. By publishing news that wasn’t true, and sharing such articles on Facebook and other social media platforms, the platforms were hoping the content would go viral.
On Monday, the dominant search engine provider decided to choke the primary revenue sources of revenue for the sites that “misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information”, reported New York Times. Speaking about the decision, a Google spokesperson said the following.
“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. This policy includes fake news sites, the spokesperson confirmed.”
To date, Google has restricted its AdSense program from being deployed on sites that promote violent videos and imagery, pornography, and hate speech.
Even before Google was pulled into the vortex of fake sites, it was Facebook that was openly blamed for carefully and systematically suppressing links from conservative sources on its Trending Topics news list. The fact that the social media giant serves as primary source of news for tens of millions of Americans, places a lot of responsibility on Facebook and hence, the platform must remain neutral, stressed industry experts. Shockingly, according to Gizmodo, Facebook had developed a tool to identify fake news on its platform, but chose not to deploy it for fear it would disproportionately affect conservative websites and cause more right-wing backlash.
Essentially, it appears that many sites that blatantly publish false news or hoaxes have learned the finer and darker aspects of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). By using unethical means, these platforms managed to understand the search and social network algorithms of Silicon Valley’s most influential companies and then pumped articles that would top the search results.
Google has never openly revealed how it ranks the news stories. Whenever probed, the company cryptically notes multiple software algorithms use hundreds of factors to determine the ranking of news stories. However, it stresses that the sifting is done automatically and no human is tasked with selectively hand-picking articles to be featured on top of its news results. Attempting to assuage the concerns of its millions of users, Andrea Faville, a Google spokeswoman, explained.
“The goal of search is to provide the most relevant and useful results for our users. In this case, we clearly didn’t get it right, but we are continually working to improve our algorithms.”
More than two million publishers use Google’s advertising network. For a while, the search engine had fought an intense battle with publishers sneaking in advertisements for counterfeit goods and weight-loss scams. Interestingly, Faville categorically noted that the policy change had been in the works for a while and was not in reaction to the election.
[Featured Image by Georges Gobet/Getty Images]