Though virtually unheard of nine months ago, "fake news" has quickly morphed into one of the major issues of the day, triggering a bit of a soul-searching crisis for the advertising industry. The problem isn't just that brand ads are appearing next to — and indirectly validating — fake content, it's that the money those brands are sending to sites that use fabricated articles to attract viewers is the biggest contributor to the explosion of fake news.

In advertisers' defense, many say programmatic media buying — specifically the ability to use cookies to follow and retarget a prospective customer around the digital world — means brands often don't know what content their ads appear alongside until well after the fact. But Randall Rothenberg, president and CEO of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, suggests that's a weak excuse at best, arguing in a recent speech that the ad industry's unwillingness to address this issue is a "moral failure." As an example, he cited news reports on how a recent college graduate in Maryland was able, in just a few hours, to create a completely false story about missing ballots in an Ohio warehouse — and quickly made $5,000 in ad sales.