Fake news is, well, in the news. Post-election, the debate swirling around fake news led Taboola, a provider of content recommendation and discovery technology, to publish a blog post Monday on the topic which seeks to explain “fake news” and the accountability issues surrounding it.
The post, “Fake News is Everyone's Business – And Our Responsibility,” written by Taboola CEO Adam Singolda, defines fake news as “the idea whereby a piece of content is written to intentionally deceive consumers to believe something that is not true — whether for commercial, political or other reasons. The intent is to deceive consumers into believing that they are reading fact-based news or editorial content, when in fact it is truthless propaganda or an advertisement.”
“There are lots of types of fake news,” Singolda told Real-Time Daily. “There’s political fake news, and there are Web sites that are designed to look like legitimate news sources.” However one defines it, Singolda said emphatically that Taboola doesn’t support fake news: “We don’t do it.”
Coincidentally, a Digiday article that published on Monday entitled “The underbelly of the internet: How content ad networks fund fake news” notes that Google and Facebook said they would ban “so-called fake news sites from their ad networks,” but that “many of these sites are still eking out an existence, thanks to the many article recommendation engines including Taboola, Revcontent and Adblade that litter their pages.” The article suggested that fake news sites tap into the market for native ad widgets and that sites like Taboola, Revcontent, Adblade, and Content.ad are prominently “displayed on sites identified with fake news.”
The article stated that publishers install the widgets with a piece of code, and when readers click on paid links within the widget, the host publisher makes money. The ads, the article suggested, are positioned as related content suggestions. The article cited Taboola’s partnership to display its ads on USAToday.com — and USATodaycom.com, which Digiday reported is a fake news site originating from Tbilisi, Georgia, that uses USA Today’s brand. The story also displayed what it described as “fake” ads from Taboola.
Shelly Paioff, Taboola’s VP of legal, offered the following statement to Real-Time Daily via email: "Taboola has a very clear and strict set of guidelines in terms of both fake news as well as trademark infringement. We would never have knowingly allowed the use of a protected trademark to be violated, as was done in the case of the website cited by Digiday as usatodaycom.com. As soon as we were informed about that website's wrongful use of our widget, we immediately fired the publisher and they do not have access to our code. We will continue to be vigilant about unauthorized use of our code.”
Taboola’s post also focuses on free speech and questions how to deal with content “that doesn’t fall into the "intentionally false" category, but is offensive to the point where it violates certain community standards, or even fits within those standards but some still find difficult to tolerate.”
Singolda told Real-Time Daily that Taboola, Google, Facebook, and others should not become censors: “That’s very wrong. There’s freedom of speech and there’s fake news which is illegal and wrong for consumers. We should be able to recommend content that’s someone’s opinion. But fake news is usually deceptive and has an agenda behind it.”
Singolda’s post asks “at what point should companies including “Facebook, Google or Taboola prevent a piece of content from being shared, searched or recommended? This is a tricky topic as it falls under the First Amendment, our fundamental right to freedom of speech and freedom of the press and the simple truth that sometimes what seems appropriate to some, seems very wrong to others. This can be a 'gray' area and there is no easy answer.”
The bottom line is that companies bear the responsibility for eliminating “all types of fake news,” the post states. “It is a disservice to publishers, advertisers and consumers to look the other way. If you were operating a restaurant, you would never intentionally serve rancid food, saying ‘the supplier said it was safe.’ Restaurants have a responsibility to test each supplier to ensure food is safe. They have a responsibility to their customers. Technology and media companies need to treat fake news as if it were rancid food—it’s unsafe for everyone, especially those consuming it,” Singolda writes.
The post goes on to explain the advertiser guidelines that Taboola established as to what type of content is acceptable — this includes, but is not limited to, fake news. Singolda writes that Taboola also manually reviews all content distributed on its network being. He concludes by suggesting that fake content is an industry-wide challenge and that Taboola is “absolutely” accountable for everything it distributes.