What do you do when your world-changing platforms are enabling a right-wing populist revolt by disseminating misinformation? One small start is to stop making money off of that disinformation. Google’s announcement yesterday that it would refuse ad sales to websites that misrepresent their purpose — followed quickly by a similar announcement from Facebook about its own ad network — is a good start.
As The Wall Street Journal reports, Google says that “[p]ages that misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about the publisher, the publisher’s content, or the primary purpose” will not be able to display programmatic ads, which are automatically sold and displayed. Facebook announced a similar move shortly after Google did, adding fake-news sites to “the category of misleading, illegal and deceptive sites, which are already barred from using the Facebook Audience Network.”
Google’s AdSense program was the primary method by which Macedonian teens monetized their fake-news operations, and traffic arbitrage — that is, “buying” eyeballs by sharing fake news on Facebook, and then “selling” them for a higher price on Google’s ad networks — is a low-margin business. While the new rules won’t fully solve the fake-news problem — making money isn’t the only reason people create and distribute misinformation — it’ll go a fairly long way toward cleaning up the lowest tier of fake news (one that was likely already packing up its things in the wake of the election). Even better, it marks a decision by Google and Facebook to take responsibility for the behaviors their platforms incentivize.