67 per cent of top brands inadvertently advertise on misinformation websites – Study

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A study published in the journal, Nature, by researchers at Stanford and Carnegie Mellon has shown that most prominent brands are inadvertently funding online misinformation. 

The study published on June 5, 2024, provides a comprehensive analysis of how false information generates revenues from unknowing brands, how marketers underestimate how dominant the problem has become and how consumers think less of brands supporting misinformation.

According to the report, 74.5 per cent of websites identified as sources of misinformation (based on NewsGuard data) were financially sustained by advertising.

An average of 67 per cent (46 per cent to 82 per cent) of the 42,595 companies studied spanning a wide range of industries, including household products, technology, finance, health, and education, place ads on misinformation sites as per the study. 

The researchers examined the reasons behind the spread of online falsehoods. Based on their findings, they suggest interventions to reduce the financing of misinformation.

One of the issues the researchers addressed (out of three) is to evaluate the roles of advertising companies and digital ad platforms in monetizing misinformation. They built large-scale data sets, combining data on websites that publish misinformation with ad activity per website from 2019 to 2021. 

Their data set included nearly 5,000 websites (approximately 1,250 of which were misinformation websites) and more than 42,000 unique advertisers, with more than nine million instances of advertising companies appearing on news websites in the three years.

The study found that advertising on misinformation websites is pervasive for companies across several industries and amplified by digital ad platforms that use algorithms to distribute ads across the web. 

It revealed that companies advertising on misinformation websites can face substantial backlash from consumers as consumers switched away from companies whose ads appeared on misinformation outlets, reducing the demand for those firms’ products. 

The study also examines why misinformation continues to be monetized despite the potential for consumer backlash.

They surveyed corporate decision-makers to gauge what they know about misinformation online. While firm leaders said they believed most companies advertised on misinformation websites, they significantly underestimated their own company’s likelihood of doing so, the study found.

Nurudeen Akewushola is a fact-checker with FactCheckHub. He has authored several fact checks which have contributed to the fight against information disorder. You can reach him via [email protected] and @NurudeenAkewus1 via Twitter.

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