Facing criticism that the propagation of fake news stories on their sites influenced the presidential election, Facebook and Google are taking action with new ad policies.
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According to a report from The New York Times, Google on Monday said it will punish websites contributing to the problem by banning them from using its AdSense service, which lets people display advertisements on their sites and generate revenue when they're seen or clicked.
Facebook, meanwhile, updated the policy for its similar Audience Network product to say it won't display ads in apps or sites containing fake news stories.
"In accordance with the Audience Network Policy, we do not integrate or display ads in apps or sites containing content that is illegal, misleading or deceptive, which includes fake news," a Facebook spokesperson told PCMag in an email. "While [previously] implied, we have updated the policy to explicitly clarify that this applies to fake news. Our team will continue to closely vet all prospective publishers and monitor existing ones to ensure compliance."
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg over the weekend acknowledged that hoaxes and fake news occasionally show up on his social network, but reiterated his view that they did not change the outcome of the recent US presidential election. Zuckerberg's comments, posted to Facebook on Saturday, echo those he made last week when asked about Facebook's role in the election, which resulted in a win for Donald Trump.
"Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99 percent of what people see is authentic," Zuckerberg wrote. "Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes. The hoaxes that do exist are not limited to one partisan view, or even to politics."
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Not all Facebook employees agree. According to BuzzFeed, a group of "renegade" Facebook workers formed an unofficial task force that will tackle fake news. Details of the group are still scant, as they organize and figure out how best to address the problem. But they plan to "eventually make a list of recommendations to Facebook's senior management," BuzzFeed says.
Google, meanwhile, on Monday found itself in a similar controversy after the site Medialite reported that the No. 1 search result for "final election vote count 2016" in Google News was a fake news story from an "angry, conservative site" wrongly stating — in all caps — that Trump won both the popular and Electoral College votes.
"If you were to rely on the number one search result on Google News, one would falsely believe that Trump was suddenly up by 700,000 votes," Medialite pointed out. By Monday evening, the fake story fell to No. 2, according to the Times, and by now it has dropped from the list of top results altogether.
"The goal of search is to provide the most relevant and useful results for our users," a Google spokesperson told PCMag. "In this case, we clearly didn't get it right, but we are continually working to improve our algorithms."