Are You Supporting Fake News?

Have you heard that the Pope endorsed Donald Trump? That’s a very famous piece of fake news. Fake news is not just biased claims or bad reporting. It’s false news stories made up out of the whole cloth and presented as truth on news sites. Some news sites specialize in fake news, while others rush to republish fake news without diligent fact checking.

The average American apparently can’t recognize fake news. Lots of us also share catchy headlines without even clicking through to read the articles. Add it all up and you have a perfect setting for misinformation and disinformation. (Read about a Stanford study on this for more data on how people get tricked, and check out Dennis Hong’s blog for more information.)

But are you supporting fake news?

Lots of website owners are, including some big players. It’s not intentional: it’s Adsense.

Google is tops in digital advertising. Some Google ads show up on the search engine results page, like these:

Others show up on websites, like this:


The ads on the search engine results page are for things the visitor is searching for. In the example above, ads about daVinci surgery are showing up because the user searched for “davinci surgery.” The ads on the website can show up based on the content of the website, but more often they are chosen on the basis of the user’s previous searches.

Search for information about makeup on Monday and you’ll be seeing ads about mascara on every website you look at for the next week.

We’ve had quite a few clients contact us in alarm because their Facebook page was showing ads for their competitors. We’ve had to explain that they are seeing these ads because they’ve been checking out their competitors, not because of anything we posted on their Facebook page.

So, people reading fake news stories see ads based on their own searches. Those ads are often the main support of the fake news sites. If you use Adsense, you may be supporting fake news sites.

It’s not just Google.

Ads placed on publishers’ websites can come from other sources, not just Google. Google is simply the biggest. For about a month now, Google has been limiting its ads on fake news websites. Not every ad company is doing so.

If you’re buying “programmatic” ads, you may be using an Adsense alternative, and your ads may be showing on a variety of websites, not just the ones you know about. When you buy banner ads on a specific website and pay the webmaster for those ads directly, this doesn’t apply to you.

If you have ads showing on websites that you haven’t specifically chosen and you are paying someone else besides Google, you should check with the company you’re using and make sure that they are not serving your ads on fake news sites.

It’s time to stop supporting fake news sites.






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