Google will ban ads promoting coronavirus conspiracy theories, remove ads from pages that promote these theories, and demonetize entire sites that frequently violate the policy starting on August 18th. CNBC reported the news earlier today, noting that it supplements an existing ban on monetizing harmful medical misinformation.
A Google spokesperson confirmed that the new policy will cover pages contradicting an “authoritative scientific consensus” on the coronavirus pandemic. While Google already demonetizes false health claims, it will soon do the same for false claims about the virus’s origins, for example. The policy won’t apply to pages debunking or reporting on the existence of these theories, and it doesn’t apply to non-coronavirus-related conspiracy theories.
“We are putting additional safeguards in place by expanding our harmful health claims policies for both publishers and advertisers to include dangerous content about a health crisis that contradicts scientific consensus,” a spokesperson told The Verge.
Google and other large web platforms have struggled with a constantly shifting information (and misinformation) landscape around the pandemic. The company briefly banned all non-governmental coronavirus-related as in March, but it lifted the ban after complaints from Democratic campaign organizations. It has also demonetized YouTube videos about the pandemic, a tack it’s taken with many sensitive topics. And amid product shortages early in the pandemic, it temporarily banned ads for the sale of face masks — a policy Facebook also adopted.
It’s unclear how much content currently violates Google’s new rules and whether specific sites would be demonetized under them. For instance, The Epoch Times — a newspaper that has widely spread COVID-19 conspiracies — currently hosts Google ads. High-profile ad removals have caused controversy in the past, including a temporary demonetization of the conservative site Zero Hedge for pervasive racism in its comments section. Google confirmed last week that it had reinstated the site’s advertising after moderation changes.