The Google Inc. company logo sits on revolving doors at its office. (Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)

Google Changes Rules to Purge News That Masks Country of Origin

(Bloomberg) -- Google moved to strip from its news search results publications that mask their country of origin or intentionally mislead readers, a further step to curb the spread of fake news that has plagued internet companies this year.

To appear in Google News results, websites must meet broad criteria set out by the company, including accurately representing their owners or primary purposes. In an update to its guidelines released Friday, the search giant added language stipulating that publications not “engage in coordinated activity to mislead users.” Additionally the new rules read: “This includes, but isn’t limited to, sites that misrepresent or conceal their country of origin or are directed at users in another country under false premises.”

A popular tactic for misinformation campaigns is to pose as a credible U.S. news outlet. Russian Internet Research Agency, a Kremlin-backed organization, used that technique to reach an audience of nearly 500,000 people, spread primarily through Twitter accounts, Bloomberg reported earlier.

“We update our policies on a regular basis to reflect a constantly changing web and how people look for information online,” a Google spokeswoman wrote in a statement. “As a result, we want to ensure that people can understand and see where their news online is coming from and that sites are being transparent about their origins.”

Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. have faced a cascade of criticism, regulatory scrutiny and public concern over the rise misleading news. Lawyers for the three companies testified before Congress in October and November over Russian influence in the 2016 U.S. election.

Google faced less heat over the spread of fake news than its social-media peers. But the search giant has admitted that Russian agents used its platforms, including YouTube and Google News, to spread propaganda. Congress has called on Google to take punitive action against Russia-backed news outlets, like Russia Today, which is very popular on YouTube. The latest update, however, is not geared to publications that openly state their country of origin.

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