To combat disinformation advertisers must make conscious media investment decisions to support quality journalism, and trusted sites, says Clare Melford, Co-Founder & Exec Director – The Global Disinformation Index.
Conscious media investment
This article is part of a series of articles from the WARC Guide to conscious media investment.
In times of crisis, people turn to the news. It behoves those of us with some influence on the news ecosystem to make sure what they find is quality – and that this quality coverage is supported.
When my co-founder and I started the Global Disinformation Index we would get comments like “disinformation online is just people telling lies on the internet, it doesn’t really matter in real life, so why would advertisers care.” The last 18 months have made those comments seem as outdated as smoking on aeroplanes.
Bunk cures for COVID-19, anti-vax campaigns, the rise of extremists, election conspiracies and most visibly, the riots at the US Capitol in January 2021, have all shown the world is more complicated than ever. The need for trustworthy journalism to help us make sense of it is more important than ever. In times of crisis, people turn to the news. It behoves those of us with some influence on the news ecosystem to make sure what they find is quality – and that this quality coverage is supported.
Advertisers have a crucial role to play in this. As the companies who in effect “pay for much of the internet,” advertising dollars are the incentive that much polarising content seeks. Brands take critical steps to ensure their advertising is not appearing next to disinformation – and thereby funding it. Removing this revenue stream substantially reduces the incentives to disinform in the first place. And by redirecting those ad dollars away from the low quality and back to high quality, brands make a meaningful difference in improving the information environment for all of us.
The challenge companies face is that there are still too few protections for their brands online. While brand safety technology does provide some solutions, it faces challenges to keep up with the ever shifting landscape of harmful content online. Given the multiplicity of brand unsafe narratives, staying ahead of which sites are trafficking in them requires specialists like GDI. Disinformation specialists invest heavily in both human and artificial intelligence technologies to be able to cope with the huge scale of the open web and also the subtlety of much brand unsafe content on larger sites. The work also requires investment in intelligence capabilities to spot new narratives as they emerge from niche sites into the mainstream. Being able to accurately spot last year’s conspiracies is less useful than being able to demonetise tomorrow’s, and it takes time to turn this intelligence into brand safety tools that can be deployed for each new narrative as it emerges.
The tools to keep brands safe are coming, 3rd party experts are key, and the role of advertisers is to demand, and demand loudly, that those to whom they entrust their advertising dollars and their brands, use these tools wisely.
Q&A with Clare Melford
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