Google Can’t Seem To Get Fake News Ads Off Its Platform

(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Daily Caller News Foundation logo
Eric Lieberman Managing Editor
Font Size:

Google, with its many technological wonders and advanced capabilities, can’t seem to get fake news advertisements off of its platform.

Its struggle to cleanse the Google AdWords system of any illegitimate marketing became even more evident in a New York Times piece published Tuesday that detailed how erroneous, but highly provocative, fraudulent ads made their way on fact-checking sites like Politifact and Snopes.

TheNYT discovered the headlines, which were embedded into ads, and noticed that once you click them, they took users to sites that feigned authenticity and sometimes imitated more well-known publications. The fake news stories on the host site would eventually shift to an ad for anti-aging skin cream, likely a product of quackery.

How did these ads end up on sites that, ironically, are dedicated to analyzing dubious claims? Google, after all, is an extremely successful conglomerate with cutting edge tech services and products like virtual reality, as well as cloud computing and voice-assistant speakers (both of which employ artificial intelligence).

A Google representative admitted that their system isn’t perfect, but was sure to clarify how expansive (almost infinite) the internet ecosystem truly is. She described an analogous situation to The Daily Caller News Foundation, in which a law enforcement department isn’t able to catch 100 percent of criminals, even with the utmost efforts and a vast trove of resources. But the spokeswoman did say they have the best system out there and that they only accept 12 percent of entities that bid for ad space.

“As always, when we find deceptive ad practices on our platforms we move swiftly to take action, including suspending the advertiser account if appropriate,” the spokeswoman told TheDCNF. “In addition, we give publishers controls so they can block specific types of ads and advertisers. Last year, we terminated over 1,300 advertiser accounts for tabloid cloaking, and last week we announced a new control for publishers to block tabloid-style ads as a category.”

One of the purported reasons for such instances, like the one with the fact-checking sites, is that as Google adapts by trying to perfect its technology and human-applied practices that pinpoints fake news peddlers, so do they.

The fraudulent advertisers, for example, mask their ambitions for getting people to buy phony products by feigning to be a news provider. The advertisers write a sexy headline, which garners clicks, and thus traffic to their untrustworthy websites — a tactic Google refers to as tabloid cloaking. Google says its algorithms are able to detect indicators of fraud that are on the surface, but can’t always find them if they are within a site’s page, which is within another page. (RELATED: BuzzFeed Wants You To Fear Facebook’s Algorithms)

The marketing department for Google, which sells more digital ads than any other tech company, does not delve into the unstable area of deciding whether news or headlines are fake or not, out of fear of pushing away certain publications.

Google’s search engine division, however, is reportedly pushing ahead with its fake news-battling initiatives, potentially showing an internal dissonance of policy, or perhaps, more aptly, that monetization for their ad system, their main source of revenue, is more important.

The tech conglomerate rolled out a new feature in April for its search browser that uses Politifact and Snopes (more irony) to help combat “fake news.” After inputting a search query, a user is shown results with “fact checks for one or more public claims” or news stories.

“The snippet will display information on the claim, who made the claim, and the fact check of that particular claim,” Justin Kosslyn, product manager of Jigsaw, Google’s technology incubator, and Cong Yu, a research scientist, wrote on an official Google blog post. “As we make fact checks more visible in Search results, we believe people will have an easier time reviewing and assessing these fact checks, and making their own informed opinions.”

Apparently, the same mechanism and process (no matter how dubious given the fact that even the most seemingly objective scientific processes are liable to subjectivity) can’t be afforded to the digital advertisement system.

The company still seems to be trying to combat the problem, as it introduced two new categories of filters for publishers to use for automated ads on their sites that are sensational, or overly-risqué.

“Publishers have indicated that they sometimes want to block particular types of [advertisements] because of the way they could affect their brands,” said Google’s Director of Product Management Scott Spencer, according to Axios.

Nevertheless, despite any improvements it knows it needs, Google still boasts about its work in the area.

“Bad ads can ruin your entire online experience, a problem we take very seriously. That’s why we have a strict set of policies for the kinds of ads businesses can run with Google—and why we’ve invested in sophisticated technology and a global team of 1,000+ people dedicated to fighting bad ads,” Sridhar Ramaswamy, senior vice president of Ads & Commerce, wrote on a company blog post in January 2016. “Last year alone we disabled more than 780 million ads for violating our policies—a number that’s increased over the years thanks to new protections we’ve put in place. If you spent one second looking at each of these ads, it’d take you nearly 25 years to see them all!”

In the same kind of blog post the following year, Google then claimed to have taken down 1.7 billion ads in 2016 that violated its advertising policies, a figure almost double the previously reported amount.

But it still may not be enough for many, especially public officials. Google — along with Facebook and Twitter for similar reasons — has been embroiled in federal investigations that automated ad systems utilized by Russians helped inflame an already schismatic political climate in America.


Follow Eric on Twitter

Send tips to

All content created by the Daily Caller News Foundation, an independent and nonpartisan newswire service, is available without charge to any legitimate news publisher that can provide a large audience. All republished articles must include our logo, our reporter’s byline and their DCNF affiliation. For any questions about our guidelines or partnering with us, please contact