The ban shouldn't affect most mainstream publishers, which hope Google's algorithms are smart enough to differentiate between misinformation about COVID-19 and legitimate news.
Already, publishers have complained that advertisers are de-monetizing their coverage about the pandemic through the process of keyword blocking. The blacklists let marketers dictate that their advertising not appear next to articles about weighty topics, such as the pandemic.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 is such a pervasive crisis that it rarely escapes mention in a wide variety of stories, including those with passing mentions of the pandemic. Uplifting stories about the heroic efforts of healthcare workers and articles that offer practical advice about how to live through quarantines face the possibility of being demonetized.
Also worrisome is the oftentimes contradictory information that health officials provide about COVID-19. There are numerous examples of publishers that back in January and February ran stories downplaying concerns about the coronavirus.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention back in March didn't recommend that people wear face masks, likely because it didn't want to trigger panic-buying of equipment needed by healthcare workers faced with serious shortages. Now, it's almost an accepted fact that face masks help to prevent infected people from spreading the coronavirus in respiratory droplets.
Face masks have since become an unnecessary political issue in states like Georgia, where Gov. Brian Kemp sued Atlanta to prevent Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms from requiring that masks be worn in the city. Georgia is becoming a coronavirus hot zone, with reported cases rising to record levels every day.
The contradictory claims undermine the credibility of health officials, creating fertile ground for conspiracy theories to spread online.
No one knows who to believe anymore.
Perhaps Google's effort to de-monetize websites that spread COVID-19 conspiracy theories will help to curtail misinformation, though it's unlikely to restore the credibility of the news media.