Storyzy’s algorithm helped track down extremist websites like Downtrend, which were showing AdSense ads on pages that did not contain hate speech
This post originally appeared on Medium and was written by the CEO and founder of Storyzy, which tracks fake news and extremist websites.
Google is funding extremist and fake news sites through AdSense, its publishing platform, despite its own policies. This is because ads are only removed at the page level. When Storyzy analyzed the 700+ fake news sites * on its automated blacklist, it found that 90% of programmatic ad users were connected to Google AdSense.
If you are a brand and don’t want to generate revenue for extremist and fake news sites, the only solution may be to blacklist the entire website.
One of the main reasons for the presence of ads on extremist and fake news sites is the fact that Google only removes ads from certain pages, not an entire website. In a post from May 2017, Google announced that it would remove ads from pages that violate its guidelines from then on. They specifically stated that this would be done at the page level rather than the site level. Scott Spencer, Google’s director of sustainable advertising, said:
“If we introduce page-level policy actions as the new standard for content violations, we’ll be able to stop displaying ads on selected pages while displaying ads for the rest of a site’s good content.”
Specifically, a particular brand’s ads may have been removed from racist content pages on an extremist website but still appear in their weather forecast section, meaning that Google and the brand are generating revenue for such websites. So it’s not surprising that as of September 2017, 90% of fake news sites that monetize their audiences through programmatic advertising are using Google AdSense (according to Storyzy statistics). Your audience represents 120 million monthly visits.
Since July 2017, Storyzy has spotted more than 600 ads from various brands on these fake news sites, including big names like McDonald’s, Walmart, AT&T, Adobe, Visa, Nespresso, American Express, Verizon, Hertz, Volkswagen, Goodyear, Microsoft, Dell , Toyota and others.
Google AdSense’s content guidelines are clear
Google AdSense’s “dangerous or derogatory content” guidelines are clear and apply at the page level:
“We firmly believe in freedom of expression, but do not allow any monetization of dangerous or derogatory content.”
However, if a brand’s ads appear on certain “safe” pages of an extremist website because those particular pages do not violate Google’s guidelines, the brand continues to fund both the extremist website and Google.
Are Google’s rules at the page level wrong?
It is common knowledge that Breitbart.com has been blacklisted by nearly 2,600 brands since November 2016 (this applies to the entire site, not just individual pages). Not all content on the website is extremist, racist, or contains false information. These brands have removed their ads even though they could appear alongside articles from reputable agencies such as the Associated Press. For example, in the screenshot below, you can see an AP article on Breitbart that has been blacklisted by these brands.
So what’s the best approach for a brand? Remove ads from the entire website or just certain pages? Nearly 2,600 brands have chosen the first option, likely because they don’t want to fund Breitbart. So if you are a brand and you don’t want to generate income on extremist and fake news sites, the only solution may be to blacklist the entire website and not just their pages that violate Google AdSense guidelines.
To be fair, Google says it can sometimes remove an entire website. However, we have found that 90% of extremist and fake news sites run programmatic display ads, including Breitbart, which are still affiliated with Adsense.
When brands want to control their ad placement, they can’t just rely on Google. You should also use a dynamic, real-time blacklist of websites that you don’t want their ads to appear on. This provides a real-time update that is needed as websites keep popping up, changing their domain names, disappearing and going live again. For example, thanks to our algorithms at Storyzy, we discovered this week that the neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer has gone live again under a different domain name. In addition, an automated blacklist of politically neutral algorithms is operated.
* Storyzy fake news sites dynamic blacklist includes 9 categories: False Information, Extreme Right, Extreme Left, Conspiracy, Propaganda, Hate, Pseudoscience, Satire, and Clickbait.
Stan Motte is the co-founder and CEO of the tech start-up Storyzy, which was founded in 2012 with the aim of combating misinformation on the web, first with an automated tool for verifying facts and now with an automated method for detecting fake news sites.