Is Google unknowingly funding disinformation from Russian sites? At a time when the war in Ukraine is making the spread of false information a major problem, the Gafam (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft) have rushed since the beginning of the conflict to punish Moscow and prevent the passing of false information intended to serve the propaganda of the Russian government. As a result, Google and Facebook have announced the suspension of the ability for Russian state-funded media to monetize their content through advertising. For its part, Apple said it would stop exports to Russia and remove Russian state media apps RT and Sputnik from the App Store.
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However, a report published on Monday, March 7 by the organization NewsGuard (which analyzes the level of credibility and transparency of news sites) warns against Google’s funding of websites that spread false information about the war in Ukraine. Of the 116 sites identified by the organization as participants in disinformation, more than 20 are said to still benefit from the revenue generated by the ads distributed by the American giant. So when NewsGuard notes the disappearance of Google ads on the RT and Sputnik sites, the organization also confirms that several sites of “the greater ecosystem of Russian disinformation”, and some of which have hidden links to the Kremlin are still largely funded by Google ads.
The organization cites as an example the case of the Pravda.ru site, a digital version of the famous Russian newspaper, now run by Vladimir Putin’s support. Above are articles on the site describing the Ukrainian state as “illegal” and members of the Ukrainian government of “neo-nazis” a large Google Ads banner with targeted ads. The media has been identified by the organization for several years as passing on false pro-Kremlin information.
The report points out that these ads are placed by algorithms and therefore Google does not fund them voluntarily. But the document highlights the contradiction between the presence of these ads and the rules that the US company should impose on publishers. This states that the platform will not serve ads on sites with: “unreliable and dangerous claims, including content that conveys false claims that could significantly undermine participation in or confidence in any electoral or democratic process”† Therefore, according to the organization “The presence of programmatic ads on sites such as Pravda — and the dozens of other sites identified by NewsGuard as part of this analysis — suggests that the arrangements put in place to enforce these policies by platforms such as Google have been ineffective or ineffective. have been applied.”
More broadly, the report recalls that disinformation doesn’t stop at information distilled by certain states. So he claims that during the Covid-19 pandemic, the ads of 4,000 brands had involuntarily funded sites (mostly private) promoting infox about Covid-19. According to NewsGuard, nearly $2.6 billion in advertising revenue swells the pockets of disinformation sites every year.