However, Google announced a policy two years ago stipulating that it would refuse advertisements that make “questionable and dangerous claims”, in particular in health and on the elections. The analysis carried out by the journalists brings two downsides to this policy: on the one hand, these advertisements are more likely to circumvent the policy if they appear “in languages other than English”. On the other hand, these advertisements appear on sites which, themselves, explicitly publish false information on health, or on the elections. We give the example of disinformation sites on the elections in Brazil, which spread the idea that a defeat of Bolsonaro would mean that the elections were rigged.
The analysis focused on 13,000 “active” pages in half a dozen languages. Out of some 800 articles identified as false by members of the international fact-checking media consortium (International Fact-Checking Network), the scan found Google ads (Google Ads) in 41% of them. As well as in 20% of articles on climate change identified as false by the English-speaking site ScienceFeedback. An example is given of an advertisement by the American Red Cross that ended up on a far-right German article from May 2021 proclaiming that COVID is no more dangerous than the flu. And an article from Epoch Times proclaiming that the Sun is responsible for global warming, has been entitled to several Google advertisements.
The analysis also found some on more innocuous fake news, such as the chemtrail conspiracy theory.
Reacting to the article, the Google spokesperson pointed out that in 2021 alone, the company had removed advertisements from 63,000 sites around the world, without commenting on the quality of the “monitoring” in- outside the English-speaking world — or on the number of people employed in this task.
Google would also have placed advertisements on 13% of English-speaking sites qualified as “unreliable” by the organization. NewsGuard, but on 30-90% of non-English speaking sites often pointed out by local fact-checking bodies. The proportion varies considerably from one region of the world to another: more than half of the 68 English-speaking sites singled out by the fact-checking site AfricaCheck since 2019, have had such ads, compared to two-thirds of the 45 French-speaking sites.
The motivation behind this research, underlines the team of the investigative magazine Pro Publica, is that much of the criticism of the dissemination of misinformation in recent years has rightly targeted platforms like Facebook or YouTube, but that “Google hasn’t faced the same attention”. Despite the fact that the company manages an annual advertising budget of over US$200 billion.
In 2019, an analysis called the Global Disinformation Index had estimated at $ 250 million per year the income of disinformation sites, 40% of which comes from Google. NewsGuard estimated in 2021 these revenues at $2.6 billion, but did not assess the share coming from Google.