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Google And Amazon Are Inadvertently Funding Covid Conspiracy Sites To The Tune Of $25 Million

TOPLINE

Tech giants including Google and Amazon will unwittingly direct some $25 million to websites spreading Covid-19 misinformation this year through their digital advertising platforms, a study by the Global Disinformation Index has found.

Fake News Photo Illustration

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KEY FACTS

Here’s how it breaks down: Google will funnel the bulk of the millions – around $19.2 million— to misinformation sites, while Amazon will provide $1.7 million in advertising revenue to the sites, the GDI estimates.

Google provides $3 out of every $4 in ad revenue earned by misinformation sites, according to the GDI data.

Advertising tech firm Open X accounts for $2.6 million—10%—of ad revenues to the sites.

The research shows ads from organizations including Merck, Loreal, Canon and the British Medical Association, a trade union for U.K. doctors, appeared on pages featuring conspiracy theory content.  

“Based on our findings, ads for big brands have been found funding stories that tout debunked and dangerous cures, undercut government lock-down measures, equate track-and-trace apps with state surveillance, and traffic in theories that the Chinese government and the global elite should be blamed for the virus’ spread,” the GDI said.

The figures exclude advertising on disinformation on social media and video platforms, the GDI said, meaning the real numbers could be far higher.

Additional info

The study was based on the GDI’s analysis of 480 English language sites between January and June this year, whose content was dominated by coronavirus misinformation, and which also carried adverts. The GDI made conservative estimates, and warned that their figures are likely to be “the tip of the iceberg.” They also estimate that ad revenue may have been skewed by a spike in overall web traffic sparked by more people being at home and searching for news online, as well as a decline in ad spend due to the pandemic.

Crucial comment

The GDI said in a blog: “As advertisers turn the spotlight on Facebook and remove their inventory from the platform, they must not lose sight of the bigger picture of their ads appearing on countless high-risk disinformation sites on the open web. Google, Amazon and others should not get a free pass from advertisers in this time of needed and increased scrutiny about where their ads are appearing – and who they are funding.”

Key background

Google and Facebook have become the dominant players in the global advertising industry thanks to technology that serve ads across the internet. Advertisers have grumbled for years that their products were being placed alongside inappropriate, or dangerous, content by the tech giant’s algorithms. The pandemic and a global conversation about racism has pushed Silicon Valley to take stock of this model. Verizon joined a advertising boycott of Facebook after activists highlighted its ads appeared alongside videos relating to the QAnon conspiracy theory, along with scores of other major advertisers in the Stop Funding Hate campaign. Google, Facebook and Twitter have all put forward measures to tackle misleading Covid-related content, and make it harder for its authors to profit from their platforms, but this crisis is prompting renewed questions about the fundamentals of their advertising-powered businesses.

Further reading

Why is ad tech paying US$25 million to COVID-19 disinfo sites? (GDI)

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