The term “fake news” first gained popularity around the 2016 presidential elections, and since then politicians have not stopped talking about it. However, misinformation isn’t just a political issue. False news is also highly financially motivated. Spammers usually communicate using names of established brands to lure users to visit their websites. More often than not, these websites are ads that allow spammers to make money. According to a September 2019 report by the Global Disinformation Index (GDI), close to $235 million worth of online ads ended up on websites that have been marked for disinformation by multiple disinformation-focused organizations. What’s shocking is that the sample tested by the GDI showed that Google sends adverts to 70% of the websites that were flagged for misinformation .
Major tech companies also saw the rise of fake news as the pandemic spread across the world. Another new research by the GDI shows that tech players like Google and Amazon are providing revenue streams to known disinformation sites spreading coronavirus misinformation and conspiracies. In a sample survey of about 50 coronavirus conspiracy sites, the GDI found Google provided ad services to 86% of these websites .
Combating fake news is an important goal of major platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Google.
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Steps taken by tech companies to combat fake news:
To prevent the spread of fake news, Google’s first attempt was the Google News Initiative. The initiative had three goals – to highlight legitimate journalism while fighting false news. To help credible news sites to grow and to give journalists reliable tools to do their jobs.
Google has also worked with organizations such as ‘First Draft’ to create “Disinfo Lab” that is focused on combating misleading news during elections.
Google also announced that there will be a round-the-clock response team that will be dedicated to coronavirus and will scrape out misinformation from Search and Youtube.
YouTube has improved its ranking system to decrease the visibility of trash comments. It also launched Top News shelf in search results and Breaking News shelf on the user’s homepage. It also surfaces authoritative content first in the search results. It also invested in trusted journalist organizations to improve news quality.
YouTube has also been launching information panels in the U.S., European countries and India that conduct fact-checking. It also increased authoritative content in the Watch Next section along with improving their machine learning to classify content as harmful, risky and fake.
Google-owned YouTube also added the World Health Organization page on the virus outbreak. The link also showed up below videos.
When it comes to curbing fake news on social media, Facebook is trying to get better at identifying misleading information with the help of third-party fact-checking organizations. Facebook is also applying machine learning to assist its response team in detecting malicious activities and fraud.
They have also launched a Facebook Journalism Project. Through this project, Facebook collaborates with news companies to develop tools, products and services for journalists that will ultimately help people make informed decisions.
Facebook is also a founder and a funder of the News Integrity Initiative. This is administered by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. The initiative’s goal is to increase news literacy to grow trust in journalism around the world.
As for containing the spread of coronavirus, Facebook is inserting a box in the user’s news feed which is directing them to the Centers for Disease Control’s page about coronavirus. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company would grant unlimited free ad credits to the World Health Organization to promote accurate information about the crisis.
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 Global Disinformation Index Staff (2019) “The Quarter Billion Dollar Question: How is Disinformation Gaming Ad Tech” [Online] Available from: https://disinformationindex.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/GDI_Ad-tech_Report_Screen_AW16.pdf [accessed Sept 2019]
 Global Disinformation Index (2020) “Why is Ad Tech Funding These Ads on Coronavirus Conspiracy Sites?” [Online] available from: https://disinformationindex.org/2020/03/why-is-ad-tech-funding-these-ads-on-coronavirus-conspiracy-sites/ [acessed March 2020]