Google parent Alphabet officially classified fake news as serious business risks for the first time ever, as revealed by its Monday 10-K filing with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission. The Mountain View, California-based tech giant found itself under fire from all sides of the political spectrum over the course of 2017 due to its role in a number of online misinformation campaigns that foreign agents reportedly organized in an attempt to meddle with the 2016 presidential election in the U.S. The firm acknowledged those issues as part of its mandatory annual report submitted to the securities regulator, stating that it now considers both "objectionable" and "misleading" content as serious risks to its business.
The threat Alphabet perceives from such content is largely aimed at its reputation, i.e. the ability of questionable sources to hurt its public image that's believed to be one of the crucial components of its long-term success. Google has been nurturing its public image for nearly two decades, with its efforts to do so spanning everything from its general branding to the company's "don't be evil" motto. The friendly image of Google took some hits in recent times and while its issues started with the dissemination of fake news through its services, they continued with questionable YouTube content linked with extremists, as well as a variety of what many deemed where disturbing videos featuring or targeted at children. That state of affairs prompted a global advertiser boycott of YouTube that didn't last for more than several months but is estimated to have cost the company hundreds of millions of dollars.
While YouTube started purging its content following the controversy, the platform once again ended up making negative headlines this winter after online celebrity Logan Paul uploaded a video of a dead body found inside Japan's Aokigahara forest, also known as "the suicide forest." The backlash that followed prompted the video streaming platform to once again tighten its policies, threatening severe sanctions to anyone who damages the public image of its community, i.e. its potential to generate revenue from advertisers. Alphabet told the SEC its business is still dependent on "strong brands," so combating fake news and questionable content remains one of its top priorities going forward.