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The internet is saturated with so much propaganda and hyperbole that most of us have become accustomed to seeing fake news stories and misinformation passed around and rehashed. Finally, as if Google and Facebook suddenly started paying attention to their own ad networks, the social media and search giants have commenced to cracking down on ads for fake news stories. Google announced on 14th November that it would no longer be allowing sites to advertise blatantly false or misleading news stories using the AdSense platform.
Google Leads the Way and Facebook Follows
Although most people who aren't involved in PPC and SEO probably heard about Facebook's changes first, it was actually Google that took the initial step. This indicates that the Big G is spearheading the crackdown, which means AdSense might be even stricter than Facebook Ads in this regard. Google is also known for developing some of the world's best algorithms, while Facebook only recently switched from human moderation to algorithm-based news curating a couple months ago, and many have called it a “complete disaster.” Some pundits have speculated that Google made the move in response to a fake news blog recently taking the top spot for the term “final election numbers.”
Clarifying the Obvious
Google AdSense has always had a relatively strict policy regarding misleading information, but the recent update further states that any sites “misrepresenting, misstating, or concealing information” will be banned from using the AdSense platform. One could argue that Google could have skipped the step of updating their terms and simply enforced the existing policy, being that many of the fake news sites were already in violation of the AdSense policy before the update.
Will this Affect the SEO of a Fake News Site?
For now, Google is only stating that it will prevent fake news stories from being advertised through Google AdSense, but it's very likely that this approach will pour over into their site ranking algorithms as well. Of course, this doesn't just clean up AdSense and Facebook Ads, it's also going to cut off a source of income for many people who have been using the gimmicky tactic to boost traffic and ad revenue. Furthermore, the move also stirs up ethical concerns related to the control of moderation when the policy goes into effect, leading sceptics to wonder:
Who Gets to Decide Which Stories are True or False?
In many cases, it's impossible to prove whether a story is legitimate or falls under the category of propaganda. It's safe to assume that Google will only be banning ads that promote veritably false information. For example, you've probably seen ads stating that celebrities have died when they really haven't – those stories can’t be promoted through AdSense or Facebook Ads anymore. However, it seems that the new policy could apply to a broader range of unverifiable content, leading many to ask whether the decision could be part of a larger agenda to increase overall accountability in online media.
Can Fake News Sites Make Adjustments to Survive?
It may be possible for a fake news site to rebound and adapt to the new policy if at least some of the stories on the site aren't completely fictional. At the moment, there seems to be no effort to curb the ongoing torrent of tabloids within the search results, so for now it appears that those sites haven't yet been extensively penalised in search, but using AdSense to promote them is definitely out of the picture as of last week.