Facebook Bans Fake News from Its Advertising Network — But Not Its News Feed

Fake news isn't disappearing from Facebook anytime soon. Despite Facebook's move this week to ban phony news sites from using its advertising network, the company's attempt to quell criticism that it influenced the outcome of the presidential election will do little to thwart the spread of such articles on its platform. That's because the strategy mistakes the social network's role in the false news ecosystem, experts say.

Fake news organizations, like real news organizations, mainly generate revenue by running ads on their own sites. Rather than sell ads themselves, many turn to marketing services, including the largest, Google AdSense, to surround their articles with ads.

But there's no money in the business unless there's enough readers. That's where Facebook comes in. Though the Menlo Park, Calif., tech giant operates its own advertising service, its more vital purpose to fake news sites is its ability to steer traffic to their stories.

Operating under monikers such as the Denver Guardian and American News, these ersatz news organizations have no name recognition and must rely on social media to find an audience. Once Facebook's algorithm picks up on the rising popularity of their content (such as a fictional post about actor Denzel Washington supporting Donald Trump), it spreads to other users' news feeds, generating the likes, comments and clicks. And with each click comes additional advertising revenue.

Though fake news sites bank on Facebook's traffic, few rely on Facebook's advertising network to serve ads -- one of the chief reasons why reactions were mixed Tuesday about its attempt to curtail the spread of misinformation. Experts were more optimistic about Google's move to ban fake news from its advertising platform Monday since it affected the offending sites directly.

"It's a step in the right direction. However, Facebook generates traffic and Google monetizes it," said Filippo Menczer, a professor of...

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