Sara Parrish, CX Consultant
25th June 2021
I’ve grappled with the problem of misinformation ever since a certain someone stepped onto the world stage (if you’re not sure who I’m talking about, it rhymes with ‘chump’). After a happy ending in November 2020, I looked forward to a quieter, less conspiracy-laden newsfeed, but nay – the coronavirus pandemic fuelled even more ‘theories’.
Our role in ‘fake news’
As Advertisers, we have blood on our hands and must reconcile the part we play in funding unethical publishers who spread misinformation at speed and scale. These publishers survive because of us – and will continue to survive for as long as they’re making revenue from ad placements. Although programmatic advertising is the main culprit behind ad placements on unsavoury sites, too often it’s our strategies, our targeting, our copy, and our creative that’s being featured.
I’ve written about misinformation from an individual culpability angle in the past, but I’m not here to talk about how my social media feed is rife with conspiracies and poorly-sourced journalism. I’m actually writing today because exciting progress is being made. NewsGuard, a tech company that analyses and rates news websites according to their accuracy and reliability, has just developed more sophisticated mechanisms to ensure that marketers and advertisers aren’t featured on ‘fake news’ sites.
The problem of tackling the problem
In the past, this was all down to blacklisting keywords, rather than judging the integrity of individual publishers. But that approach presented problems: simply blacklisting a controversial keyword rules out highly reputable publishers like The Economist or The New York Times, who are simply covering that event or topic. (Ryan Barwick explains it brilliantly in this Morning Brew summary.)
With Facebook, Google, and Amazon now eating into 65% of all online ad revenue (!), skint publishers find themselves cutting corners as they struggle to stay afloat. Unfortunately, the quality of journalism can suffer as a result: we’ve already seen some historically reputable publishers descend into the territory of clickbait and sensationalism. And I know I don’t want my strategic thinking, targeting, content, or creative to inadvertently fund misinformation. I’d sleep much better at night if I knew that my work is supporting quality journalism from quality publishers.
A more honest future?
NewsGuard uses vetted and trained journalists to determine a ‘credibility score’ of sorts for thousands of publishers. It even offers a browser extension so you can vet your own sources while reading digital news content – a useful tool for anyone with conspiracy-convinced relatives. It’s a great stride towards tackling a massive issue, and, if rolled out properly, could have a positive knock-on effect for the wider consumption of online content.
With Google serving 48% of the ad traffic on ‘fake news’ publishers, I look forward to seeing what they and Facebook will do to battle ad-funded misinformation. In the meantime, NewsGuard is already partnering with mega media bodies such as Microsoft, Omnicom and Publicis to defund these dark corners of the internet while establishing more ethical buying practices to bolster a hurting journalism sector. And I can’t wait to see the difference it’ll make.
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