No one likes fake news. But that can be bad news, when liberal newspapers and websites use it as an excuse to censor conservative news sources.
Facebook, for example, announced a plan to combat fake news last month, which entails using left-leaning media and fact-checking organizations to analyze stories. Stories that are considered false will be less likely to show up in Facebook’s news feed, will contain a warning flag and will be prohibited from being promoted through an ad.
Who isn’t concerned that left-leaning Facebook users will report conservative articles as fake, left-leaning fact-checkers will rule the articles fake, and journalists who lean to the left will affirm the reports?
Snopes acknowledged that a site called USA Politics Today had only one fake news article on its entire site, which was removed, but Google still banned the site from its advertising network.
Le Monde, Google, Media Matters and Buzzfeed
Last week, the prominent French newspaper Le Monde identified 600 news sites it considers to be fake news, including the popular conservative site Breitbart, until recently led by top Trump aid Steve Bannon. Le Monde‘s fact-checking division Les Décodeurs compiled the list.
Samuel Laurent, head of Les Décodeurs, said some sites may seem normal but are dispelling misinformation on areas like abortion. “You then find out they’re run by Catholic militants,” so are heavily partisan, he said. Sites that contain negative information about Muslims were also included.
The newspaper built a downloadable browser extension that will alert readers to the “truthfulness” of stories on these 600 websites. It is also building a bot for Facebook to identify the stories. The full list has not been made public yet.
Other important sites are doing the same thing. Google decided in the fourth quarter of last year to ban fake news sites from its Google Adsense network. Adsense allows publishers to receive royalties from ads and the company said putting out misleading information violates the program’s terms of usage. The ban targeted sites which impersonate real news organizations through shortened top-level domains, such as by using .co instead of .com. Google did not issue a list of the 200 sites it banned, but at least one of them is a conservative news site.
The left-wing site Media Matters, which aggressively targets conservatives, regularly reports conservative news sites to Google as fake news sites. Media Matters identified 24 of these websites in December. They are mostly familiar conservative websites, including some fairly prominent sites like Right Wing News, Gateway Pundit and Western Journalism (disclaimer: I am a regular contributor to Right Wing News).
Last October, the left-leaning site Buzzfeed identified 30 articles on Right Wing News as fake news. John Hawkins, the owner of Right Wing News, analyzed all of the articles and concluded that 23 of the articles were accurate — but Buzzfeed would only retract three of the false labels.
Media Matters triumphantly announced on January 26 that this list had been whittled down to just over a dozen sites, but most of the sites removed from the list still appear to be a part of the Adsense network. The only site I could determine that was successfully kicked out of the network is USA Politics Today, a fairly popular conservative site. The owner of the site said Google told them the site was banned because two titles of articles on the site were misleading. One of the articles, “BREAKING: Jill Stein Just ENDORSED Donald Trump! Watch Her Obliterate Hillary!” was removed from the site, but Google would not renege. According to the left-leaning, myth-debunking site Snopes, that article was the only fake news on the entire website.
A few of the websites belonging to two notorious creators of fake news—leftists posting false stories designed to fool conservatives—were probably included in this list. Jestin Coler ran Conservative Frontline, National Report and The Denver Guardian last year. All three sites are no longer operating and are devoid of content. Paul Horner was the lead writer for National Report, and went on to start his own fake news sites, including newsexaminer.net and abcnews.com.co. Those two sites are still operating, but do not have any ads from Google Adsense.
A Dangerous Trend
The increase in organizations targeting fake news will harm conservative news sites, since they are being included. The definition of fake news has been expanded from meaning sites that purposely churn out false stories to encompass conservative news the left dislikes. The left is trying to hijack the definition of fake news. The organizations choosing to identify fake news are questionable. Since Le Monde is a news organization itself, should it really be the authority on what news is accurate? It is akin to policing itself and making the rules for the industry.
Melissa Zimdars, a media professor at Merrimack College in Massachusetts, compiled a list of fake news websites last year. A couple of the sites included are fairly popular right-leaning sites, such as Infowars and Conservative Tribune. Even more troubling, she singled out Fox News, one of the most prominent and reputable sites for conservatives, as potentially making the list. “Some sources not yet included in this list (although their practices at times may qualify them for addition), such as The Daily Kos, The Huffington Post, and Fox News, vacillate between providing important, legitimate, problematic, and/or hyperbolic news coverage, requiring readers and viewers to verify and contextualize information with other sources,” she wrote.
It is long overdue for a source on the right to compile a list of fake news sites that doesn’t include conservative news. (For more from the author of “Le Monde Labels Breitbart Fake News as Google Bans 200 Sites from Ad Network” please click HERE)