November 15, 2016 Last Updated 9:46 am

Google and Facebook say fake news sites will be banned from using their ad networks

Morning Brief: Journalist Gwen Ifill is remembered by her colleagues; Russia Today moves to the far right to cater to Trump and Brexit supporters, much to the surprise of its staff

The search giant Google is now facing the same scrutiny that Facebook has after the election. What is its role in spreading fake or false news. Yesterday, Google could not explain why an odd website – “70 News” – was showing up in its search results when users searched for the most accurate popular vote totals.

Maybe it was simply that the site was the only one claiming that Donald Trump received more votes than Hillary Clinton, because today, when you do the same search, the website Inquisitor now comes up first – it is not claiming anything, only providing a place for right wingers to make the claim. One could safely conclude that the truth matters little to a large percentage of Americans, and so it will be hard for Google to prevent fake news from appearing at the top of their search results.

But both Google and Facebook have now decided that the right approach would be to prevent these suspicious websites from participating in their ad programs – Google Adsense and the Facebook Audience Network. This would undercut the reasons these sites exist in the first place, to drive revenue by appealing to a certain readership that wants the world presented in a certain way. This will also, however, present some real problems for both tech giants, who deliver a ton of page views for advertisers through place their ads on these sites. It will be interesting to see if Google and Facebook really follow through, or are hoping a public statement will be enough to make the story go away.

The Wall Street Journal, Jack Nicas and Deepa Seetharaman:

Google and Facebook Take Aim at Fake-News Sites

Facebook Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google announced steps to prevent fake-news websites from generating revenue through their ad-selling services, signs that technology companies are moving to address a growing controversy about misinformation on the internet.

A Facebook spokesman said it will explicitly ban sites that traffic in fake news from using the Facebook Audience Network, saying they fall under the category of misleading, illegal or deceptive sites already barred. The audience network places ads on other websites and mobile apps…

…Both Facebook and Google appeared to be reacting to critics who have urged tech companies to try to prevent the spread of such misinformation, which critics say hurt political discourse and sharpened divisions among American voters.

“While implied, we have updated the policy to explicitly clarify that this applies to fake news,” the Facebook spokesman said.

The New York Times, Zeynep Tufekci:

Mark Zuckerberg Is in Denial

After the election, Mr. Zuckerberg claimed that the fake news was a problem on “both sides” of the race. That’s wrong. There are, of course, viral fake anti-Trump memes, but reporters have found that the spread of false news is far more common on the right than it is on the left.

The Macedonian teenagers found this, too. They had experimented with left-leaning or pro-Bernie Sanders content, but gave up when they found it wasn’t as reliable a source of income as pro-Trump content. But even if Mr. Zuckerberg were right and fake news were equally popular on both sides, it would still be a profound problem.

Only Facebook has the data that can exactly reveal how fake news, hoaxes and misinformation spread, how much there is of it, who creates and who reads it, and how much influence it may have. Unfortunately, Facebook exercises complete control over access to this data by independent researchers. It’s as if tobacco companies controlled access to all medical and hospital records.

I found this story funny in a perverse way. Here we have the Russian propaganda network being criticized by staff for hiring a far right-wing commentator. Their complaint, of course, is that they thought they had signed up for spewing far left-wing propaganda. You just can’t please some “journalists”.

BuzzFeed News, Jim Waterson:

Russia Today Staff Are Upset The Channel Could Give A Show To Katie Hopkins

Katie Hopkins is being lined-up to present a new show on RT, staff at the Kremlin-backed station have told BuzzFeed News, raising concerns among some employees that the broadcaster is shifting its output to the political right following the triumph of Donald Trump and Brexit.

Hopkins who became famous after appearing on the British version of The Apprentice, has since transformed herself into a right-wing demagogue pundit with a column on MailOnline and a show on LBC. Now insiders say she could be about to get her own show on the station formerly known as Russia Today, which is subsidised by the Russian government.

One RT employee, who said they had seen a pilot for Hopkins’ show, said staff at RT in the UK were unhappy at the prospect of her becoming a presenter.

“They think having Katie as a host in the studio will bring in viewers. A few people have said they’d leave [if Hopkins get a show] but why should we quit? If there’s an internal battle for the soul of a media outlet, why walk away?”

Face it, we are in a new world now. One where the racist instincts of many are being allowed voice. The question going forward will be whether it is normalized, or whether institutions can fight back.

The New York Times, Seth Berkman:

Columbia Suspends Wrestling Season Over Lewd and Racist Text Messages

Columbia University’s wrestling team, which bills itself as the nation’s oldest intercollegiate program, has had its season suspended by the university while officials investigate text messages sent by team members that included the frequent use of racist, misogynistic and homophobic terms.

On Monday, Columbia released a statement saying that the university’s athletic department “has decided that Columbia wrestlers will not compete until we have a full understanding of the facts on which to base the official response to this disturbing matter.” A university official confirmed late Monday that the team was still practicing, which raised the possibility that the season would continue once the investigation was completed…

…Screengrabs of the texts were first published Thursday by Bwog, an independent, student-run Columbia news website. The lewd texts were sent over the last three years by wrestling team members through the messaging app GroupMe, Bwog reported.

The revelations at Columbia came one week after the Harvard men’s soccer team’s season was canceled after The Harvard Crimson, the university’s student newspaper, reported that players on that team had a history of creating sexually explicit “scouting reports” about members of Harvard’s women’s soccer team.

Yesterday the sad news came that journalist Gwen Ifill had died at 61. Ifill was well known as the co-host of the PBS NewsHour, but before that had worked in the newspaper business at the Baltimore Evening Sun, The Washington Post, and The New York Times. Ifill’s death hit both viewers and fellow journalists very hard. She was widely respected as a journalist, and loved as a gracious, warm human being.

Last night, the News Hour did something very out of character for the show, it dedicated much of the show to the life and career of Ifill. This may seem normal for many television shows to focus on itself, but it was very out of character for the News Hour, but also very appropriate.

PBS NewsHour:

The New York Times, David Brooks:

The Life and Example of Gwen Ifill

Gwen worked in a tough business, and being an African-American woman in that business brought its own hardships and scars, but Gwen’s smile did not hold back. Her whole personality was the opposite of reticent, and timidity was a stranger to her. When the Ifill incandescence came at you, you were getting human connection full-bore.

And you had better honor it. After the photos, I searched Monday through our email exchanges. I don’t know how Gwen was with her other friends, but she’d send me short, sometimes cryptic emails every couple of weeks. Sometimes it was a compliment, sometimes a bit of gossip, sometimes it was a jokey offer to rub out someone who’d been nasty to me, and sometimes she was just the sort of friend who checks in: “For some reason you have been on my mind. Are you well?”

Gwen was ebullient, as I’ve mentioned, but she was not soft. She was authoritative, an executive and confident.

The Huffington Post, Alana Horowitz Satlin:

Watch Gwen Ifill Call Out Fellow Journalists For Not Standing Up To Racism

In April 2007, radio host Don Imus was under fire for calling the Rutgers’ women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos.” He was later fired over the infamous remark, even though he’d gotten away with other, similarly gross comments.

In a roundtable discussion on NBC’s “Meet the Press” at the time, Ifill pointed out the hypocrisy of those attacking Imus despite having never taken issue with his earlier racist statements.

“There has been radio silence from a lot of people who have done [Imus’ show] who could have spoken up and said, I find this offensive or I didn’t know,” Ifill said. “These people didn’t speak up.”

  • Kasey 1 year ago

    Limiting what is said and banning it and calling it “fake news” is a bit dangerous. I mean who is reading it and fact checking it to determine the truth behind it? Or is facebook (which is more likely to do so than google) going to limit certain things based on which side of an issue they support. Facebook has already limited conservative groups and movements in the US and promoted liberal, left-leaning groups and posts at the same time so it is not unreasonable to imagine they will use the same tactics here in order to quell a certain point of view. I would hate to see Google follow facebooks lead here and start limiting certain points of view in favor of others. They are supposed to be neutral in this and provide us with the best, most up to date and pertinent information available.

    I can understand getting rid of truly fake news and the horde of clickbait that is so rampant on the internet but I would not agree with where this might go in the future.