Many social media sites, and Facebook in particular, have come under criticism after the shock US election results, for potentially influencing voters through false news reports. Now Facebook and Google have both announced moves to try and combat fake news being spread on their platforms.
Google was the first to announce that it would ‘imminently’ enact a change in policy which will see it place restrictions on sites publishing fake news stories. Facebook followed suit soon after with its own measures.
There has been increasing pressure and scrutiny on both Google and Facebook in light of the US election results. Facebook has been heavily criticized for the proliferation of fake news stories which spread across its network. One widely reported example is a story which stated that the Pope had endorsed Donald Trump. Other stories gaining attention during the presidential campaign included reports that Hillary Clinton murdered an FBI agent and that President Obama had "admitted" he was born in Kenya.
For its part, Google also came under scrutiny after an incorrect story that Donald Trump had won the popular vote appeared number one in search for the term ‘final election count’.
How important is social media for news?
According to a Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism study more than a quarter of those aged 18-24 name social media as their primary source of news – a percentage which has seen social media surpass television as the main source of news for the first time ever.
Of the 50,000 people surveyed by Reuters in total, 12% named social media as their main source of news, with the majority turning to Facebook as the most frequent network for news discovery.
With such a high dependence on social media for news, there has been concern that the high volume of incorrect reports spread across the social networking site in the crucial lead up to voting may have influenced the election outcome.
What is Google’s reaction?
The search engine has announced a policy change will be made across the Google AdSense network. This means any domain which is guilty of spreading misinformation will find itself unable to carry ads from AdSense. While this might seem like nothing more than a slap on the wrist, the changing face of news consumption means this could hit publishers hard where it hurts – namely in the pocket.
Why is AdSense restriction the chosen course of action? Will publishers even be bothered by this policy change?
The Reuters study carried out earlier this year concluded that less than 10% of people in English speaking countries have paid for online news in the last year. This figure means that very few sites make money from hiding news behind paywalls. With minimal cash generated from subscriptions, online advertising revenue is a business-critical asset for publishers.
The numbers involved are significant. With AdSense revenue usually earnt from clicks or impressions, the volume of consumers reading news online adds up to a very lucrative source of income. A Pew Research Study found that amongst Americans who preferred to read the news, 59% go online to do so, compared with just 26% who reach for a physical printed publication.
In a statement explaining the change, Google’s Andrea Faville said, “Moving forward, we will 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.”
And what’s Facebook’s approach to restricting the spread of fake news?
CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a post on his own Facebook page Saturday that, "Of all the content on Facebook, more than 99% of what people see is authentic,” he wrote.
"Only a very small amount is fake news and hoaxes. The hoaxes that do exist are not limited to one partisan view, or even to politics."
His statement did little to quell the rising tide of voices expressing concern and Facebook has now also taken action, updating its Audience Network policy statement. It now says that it will not display ads in apps or sites containing content that is fake news. The previous version of the policy said only that it would not permit misleading or illegal content.
Facebook also said that it will continue to work on tools to allow users to easily report fake or hoax content across its network.
Do you turn to the internet for news discovery? Has the proliferation of fake news made you more wary of what you read on social networks? Let us know in the comments.