Fact check: Is NDTV carrying ‘ads for call girls’ for attracting revenue or traffic?

On Monday night, some Twitter users shared a screenshot of a page from NDTV website that seemingly carried a phone number for getting call girls in Gwalior city of India. They wondered if this was an ‘advertisement’ and NDTV was earning through such dubious means given that their business appears in doldrums. NDTV had recently announced that they were laying off 25% of their workforce.

As one can see, when you click the link given in the above tweet, the NDTV page (when seen on mobile devices) indeed carries what is shown in the image. However, on desktop, the result is a little bit different and the above term appears as a title with the body saying “Your search did not match any documents”.

It is basically a search result page, and one can indeed type anything after “ndtv.com/topic/” in a browser and the resultant page will show something similar.

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Therefore, can one say that the above tweet was misleading? Is NDTV entirely innocent and not carrying any pages that have advertisements for call girls?

Yes, and No.

While it is indeed not any advertisement or editorial content being carried by the NDTV website, the fact is that NDTV is choosing to get such search results ‘indexed’ by Google . When one searches for the exact phrase (displayed in the image) on Google, only NDTV pages are returned, confirming that the website was choosing to get the search terms indexed.

In simple terms, NDTV has created webpages (automatically created) based on thousands of keywords they believe can give them traffic but are not related to any content on NDTV. These keywords could have been chosen by some algorithm, which did not make exceptions for such obscene or irrelevant keywords.

We tried to check if NDTV has indexed more search results pages based on such obscene or irrelevant keywords, and there indeed were thousands of indexed pages on Google.

So NDTV could be getting some traffic because there are people who are searching for call girls. Whether this was a deliberate decision by the website to attract extra traffic, or an oversight while indexing search terms, is something only NDTV can answer.

We tried to check other news portals if they are indexing similar obscene or irrelevant keywords, and results were mixed (some were as much ‘guilty’ as NDTV, while some desisted from this practice).

To sum it up. NDTV is not carrying any advertisements for call girls, but they are surely tricking – either deliberately or inadvertently – many visitors who are looking for call girls, not any news articles, a plausible violation of Google’s rules for websites. Recently, NDTV had declared that they were number one among news websites in terms of traffic.

Update: NDTV has responded to this issue and they have admitted a tech flaw and oversight, but denied any deliberate attempt to attract traffic through such dubious means. You can read about their response here.

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