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Politics

Google reportedly put fake news ads on fact-checking sites

Fake news appears to be popping up everywhere, even on the websites designed to stop it.

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Google's ad program reportedly put fake news on a fact-checking website.

Claudia Cruz/CNET

The fake news plague has reportedly spread to fact-checking websites.

Fake news ads popped up as recently as last week on fact-checking pages like Snopes and PolitiFact, reported The New York Times. One ad falsely said that First Lady Melania Trump was leaving the White House, according to the report.

The fake news ads were served up by Google's AdWords system, which automatically places ads based on a target audience. The ads reportedly had enticing fake headlines, that once clicked, would take people to sites that mimicked legitimate publications like People or Vogue. "The fake stories began with headlines and large photos of the celebrities in question, but after a few sentences, they transitioned into an ad for an anti-aging skin cream," reported the Times.

It's unclear how the fake news ended up on Snopes and PolitiFact. Google didn't comment on how the ads were approved.

"As always, when we find deceptive ad practices on our platforms we move swiftly to take action, including suspending the advertiser account if appropriate," said Suzanne Blackburn, a Google spokeswoman.

The spread of fake news has caused public scorn for companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter, as tech giants fail to keep up with viral propaganda. Google has pledged to help stop the spread of fake news, but hoaxes and bad ads have still found a way to slip by the search engine. The company said in January that it removed 1.7 billion "bad ads" -- everything from payday loan ads to ads for illegal products like black market pharmaceuticals -- in 2016.

An internal Google investigation also found that Russian operatives spent tens of thousands of dollars on ads across Google's properties, including in search results, YouTube and Gmail. The ads were reportedly part of a campaign to influence the 2016 US presidential election.

Aaron Sharockman, PolitiFact's executive director, said they were aware of the fake news ads on the website for days and believed Google's ad system was the cause.

"The revenue those advertisements provide is critical to funding a website like ours, but it's equally important that we do everything we can to make sure the advertisements appearing on our site are not deceptive or intentionally misleading," Sharockman said in a statement. He said they're working with Google to remove the advertisements. 

Snopes didn't respond to a request for comment. 

Google started giving publishers more control over ads on their sites in February and added a feature last week specifically to filter out sensationalist news

First published on Oct. 18 at 7:43 a.m. PT.
Updated, Oct. 20 at 1:13 p.m. PT:
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