Google is making money from fake news websites by placing Government-funded advertising on them, according to an investigation by The Times.
The paper is currently investigating the pitfalls of programmatic advertising, the technology which automatically serves internet users with adverts based on their interests and previous browsing. Much of it is delivered via Google Adsense.
The Times reports that the National Theatre has advertising appearing on WordNewsDailyReport.com next to a story about a “Pig Brothel”. The National Theatre contends that the site is satire rather than fake news.
The Times also reports that the International Citizen Service is advertising on a website called Eagle Rising which reports a conspiracy theory that the UN High Commission for Refugees is “under the influence of a powerful Muslim supremacist group”.
Head of digital advertising at Havas Media Group Scott Moorhead told The Times: “A lack of rigour and accountability combined with a focus on cheap audience has resulted in a whole industry supporting clickbait and fake news. Is advertiser and agency behaviour driving fake news? Absolutely. Is it damaging real publishers? Absolutely.”
The Times reports that the top twenty fake stories about the US election were shared almost 9m times on social media making them more popular than the top 20 real stories.
It says adverts for the National Theatre and the Open University are still appearing on a false story about Beyonce on a fake news site called The Last Line of Defence.
A Google spokeperson told Press Gazette: “We want ads to be useful and safe for users and have strict policies which do not allow advertising on copyright infringing, malicious or misrepresentative sites.
“We disable ad serving against websites that break these policies and regularly review sites to check they comply. If users notice a site they believe breaks our policies they can let us know using our online feedback form”.
Press Gazette understands that Google has ejected more than 91,000 sites from its Adsense programme. In November and December 2016 it reviewed 550 and took action against 340 for misrepresentation and other offences. Some 200 publishers were banned from the network.