Google this week joined Facebook in announcing that it would restrict revenue-generating advertisements from being placed on websites purveying fake news.
The move appears to be in response to the criticism that both companies have received in recent days for allowing some websites to distribute fake news pertaining to the recent U.S. presidential election.
Some believe that the false reports, a majority of them unfavorable to presidential contender Hillary Clinton, played a role in President-Elect Donald Trump's victory.
One example that has been widely quoted is a top Google search result that pointed to an obscure, barely heard of site claiming that Trump was winning the popular vote even when Clinton had the lead. BuzzFeed News earlier this month reported that more than 100 websites run from a single small town in Macedonia were distributing fake pro-Trump news stories through Facebook and other sites.
"We have updated our publisher policies and now prohibit Google ads from being placed on misrepresentative content just as we disallow misrepresentation in our ads policies," a spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.
Going forward, Google will also restrict ad service on pages that misrepresent, misstate or conceal information about the publisher, the primary purpose of the website or the publisher's content, she said.
Google currently maintains a long list of prohibited content for ad serving purposes. For instance, Google's AdSense polices currently prohibit Google ads from being placed on sites that purvey pornographic and adult content, sites that promote recreational drug use, content that advocates against individuals and group and computer hacking and cracking websites.
With this week's update, Google has added fake news websites to this list. "Users don't want to be misled with the content they engage with online," the company’s updated ad policy noted. As examples of such content, the company pointed to websites that deceptively present fake news articles and sites that falsely imply having an affiliation with or endorsement by another individual or organization.
It is unclear how exactly Google will enforce the new policy or what measures it will use to differentiate between a site serving up fake news, poorly reported content or sites that serve up satirical content. The goal instead in changing the ad policies is to ensure that sites serving up fake news content don't profit from it by having people click on their sites.
Facebook, which has been exorcised even more than Google for allowing fake news to be distributed widely via its News Feed this week reiterated its commitment not to permit ads on sites that fall afoul of its policies pertaining to illegal, misleading and deceptive content.
But in a blog post, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg highlighted the need for caution. "After the election, many people are asking whether fake news contributed to the result, and what our responsibility is to prevent fake news from spreading," Zuckerberg said.
While the question is relevant, it is important to note than more than 99 percent of what people see and read on Facebook is authentic, he said. Only a very small proportion of the content is fake news and hoax news and that content is unlikely to have had much of a result on the outcome of the election, Zuckerberg said.
Any effort to neutralize fake news sites should not introduce unintended side effects and bias in the system. "I am confident we can find ways for our community to tell us what content is most meaningful, but I believe we must be extremely cautious about becoming arbiters of truth ourselves," Zuckerberg said.