Skip to Content

Facebook’s Fake-News Ad Ban Is Not Enough

Rattled by criticism, the social network has taken a positive step—but misinformation can continue to spread.
November 15, 2016

The post-election furor surrounding Facebook’s fake-news problem has sparked new initiatives to halt the provision of ads to sites that peddle false information. But it’s only a partial solution to the problem: for now, hoaxes and fabricated stories will continue to appear in feeds.

Facebook, rattled by widespread concerns that fake news appearing in its feeds skewed the election, has said it will ban such sites from using its advertising network. The block will mean that third-party sites that peddle fallacious content will no longer be able to make money hosting ads provided by the Facebook Audience Network.

Google has made a similar decision, saying that it “will restrict ad serving on pages that misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about the publisher, the publisher’s content, or the primary purpose.” That was no doubt spurred by the fact that it, too, came under criticism for including fake election news in its search results.

Both schemes will make it harder for fake-news sites to bring in revenue. In theory, that might remove the incentive to publish false stories, since the content appears to come from Macedonian teenagers looking to make a quick buck.

But neither tactic will immediately stop fake news from appearing in Google searches or Facebook news feeds. And many Facebook users are clearly rather partial to fake news, so other outlets may take it upon themselves to create fake content to sway public opinion, with little concern about making money.

To that point, a Gizmodo report alleges that Facebook has already developed tools to prevent fake news from appearing in feeds but chose not to implement them. A source from the company claims that decision was made based upon “fear about upsetting conservatives” in the wake of stories that circulated earlier this year suggesting editors of Facebook’s Trending section had a liberal bias. Facebook has denied the accusations.

It seems unlikely that Facebook has a total solution to the problem, though. Even if it were to come up with a way to reliably distinguish fake content from the truth, it’s not clear where censorship should start and stop. Is a person allowed to post untruths in a status update, but a website not allowed to lie in an article posted to the site? What about satire?

Clearly Facebook needs to do something to address the issue of misinformation, and it’s making a start. But the ultimate solution is probably more significant, and rather more complex, than a simple ad ban.

(Read more: Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, Gizmodo,  “Facebook Has a Lot to Lose by Appearing Biased,” “Regardless of Its Influence on the Election, Facebook Needs to Change”)

Keep Reading

Most Popular

mouse engineered to grow human hair
mouse engineered to grow human hair

Going bald? Lab-grown hair cells could be on the way

These biotech companies are reprogramming cells to treat baldness, but it’s still early days.

ai learning to multitask concept
ai learning to multitask concept

Meta’s new learning algorithm can teach AI to multi-task

The single technique for teaching neural networks multiple skills is a step towards general-purpose AI.

Death and Jeff Bezos
Death and Jeff Bezos

Meet Altos Labs, Silicon Valley’s latest wild bet on living forever

Funders of a deep-pocketed new "rejuvenation" startup are said to include Jeff Bezos and Yuri Milner.

conceptual illustration showing various women's faces being scanned
conceptual illustration showing various women's faces being scanned

A horrifying new AI app swaps women into porn videos with a click

Deepfake researchers have long feared the day this would arrive.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.