Google Cracked Down on 340 Fake News Sites Last Year

Following post-election outcry over fake news, Google goes after sites' ad revenue

Google punished 340 fake news sites in 2016 after changing its policy to prevent "misrepresentative" sites from using Google ads. Credit: Ore Huiying/Bloomberg/Getty

In a report released on Wednesday titled, "How we fought bad ads, sites and scammers in 2016," Google announced that it took action against 340 sites "that deceive people with their content" – including purveyors of fake news – in 2016. Close to 200 of these sites are no longer allowed to use Google ads.  

After Google, Facebook and other tech companies caught flak for failing to prevent the spread of potentially harmful false news stories during last year's presidential election, these organizations took steps to slow the spread of incorrect information. Google went after fake news sites' ad revenue in November by adopting a new AdSense policy that explicitly prohibited sites propagating "misrepresentative content" from using Google Ads.

"Users don’t want to be misled by the content they engage with online," the new language reads. "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."

According to a report from Scott Spencer, director of product management for Sustainable Ads, Google investigated more than 500 sites for potentially violating this rule in under two months last year. "From November to December 2016, we reviewed 550 sites that were suspected of misrepresenting content to users, including impersonating news organizations," he writes. "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."

"The battle doesn’t end here," Spencer continues. "As we invest in better detection, the scammers invest in more elaborate attempts to trick our systems. Continuing to find and fight them is essential to protecting people online and ensuring you get the very best from the open web."

Facebook also took initial action against fake news sites last year. In December, the social media platform created a new tool so that fact-checkers at outlets like Politifact and the Associated Press can analyze posts that are suspect of conveying false information. If these stories are determined to be untruthful, they will be tagged as "disputed," and they will appear lower in Facebook users' news feeds.