How is Google going to ban fake news sites? Here’s a breakdown for the tech illiterate

Before the election, fake internet news was just the price we paid for technology that granted instant access to cat pictures. In the wreckage of 2016, however, critics want these so-called “news” sources to be shut down, and for once, major online companies are actually listening — starting with Google banning fake news sites from its ad services.

Although Facebook has taken most of the flak for being too lenient on fake news, Google is not exactly blameless. On the Sunday after the presidential election, the top Google result for “final election vote count 2016″ was a miscalculated report from conservative partisan site 70News, the author of which attributed his statistics to some random guy on Twitter. Let that sink in for a second: Google’s top search result for terrified, grieving Americans wanting to find out what their futures held was an angry neocon rant on WordPress. Clearly the company needs to crack down.

Google is taking initial steps by prohibiting fake news sites from using its advertising service, AdSense. In a public statement, the company said it would “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.” Fabricated/fake/deliberately misleading “news” = no more ads = no more money. It hits these sites where it hurts: in the wallet.

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CREDIT: Lucia Lambriex/Getty Images

AdSense allows sites to display click-through ads which generate revenue for site owners, and is the most popular mechanism for making websites financially viable. When a site applies to use AdSense, Google reviews its content via algorithms and human assessment, then determines its eligibility based on those findings. Sites with pornographic, graphically violent, or drug-related and hate speech content are already banned from using AdSense, so this builds on existing policy rather than imposing an entirely new one.

The company has not elaborated on the human-AI split of the AdSense review process or whether that will change going forward, which could be key factors here. Some fake news sites should already fall under the ban, given the overlap between sites propagating hate speech and sites disseminating fake news, but they’e apparently escaped Google’s algorithms thus far. Google also hasn’t disclosed what measures will be put in place to exclude satirical news sites which distribute mock journalistic content for entertainment purposes, such as The Onion.

Nevertheless, banning fake news sites from using AdSense takes Google in a positive direction, especially since denying ad services to those sites also denies the company its cut of their revenue. Maybe taking income away from producers of misinformation will help to bring a little more truth into our media.