Google have updated publisher policies to prevent fake news sites from monetising through the AdSense platform. Fake news sites have been a popular strategy in recent years thanks to the ease with which sensational news stories can go viral on social media, even when they are purely fictional. Fake stories about the death of celebrities seemed to be the most popular strategy last year, with political news taking over in 2016.
Google’s stance on fake news
These new standards come under the heading of “Misrepresentative content” on the prohibited content page of AdSense policy. The relevant section is included below
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 a 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
Why has Google made this announcement now?
Fake news sites are not a new problem and both Facebook and Google have been drawn on the issue in the past. This year saw an explosion in fake political news, apparently in part thanks to an army of fake news authors in Macedonia. As a result there has been much discussion about how such news may have influenced both the UK Referendum on EU membership and the American Presidential Election. Facebook has been coming under fire for the role it plays in distributing and promoting such news. Google have presumably been looking at their own role in enabling such sites.
The policy change, which has been reported around the web, aims to cut off an key funding source for these sites. For Google it also serves to ensure the quality of the publisher network is maintained for their advertisers.
How will the “Misrepresentative content” policy be enforced?
This isn’t yet clear but this doesn’t come as a surprise given Google’s secrecy around policy enforcement. Prohibitive content policies already contain a number of points that are difficult to enforce automatically and the general assumption is that user reports of ads and manual review is used alongside any algorithmic methods. The wording of the policy suggests that pages falling foul of this new policy will have ad-serving disabled, rather than penalties applying site-wide. This should alleviate concerns from publishers worried about accidentally crossing the line.