Mattias Spetz, Global President of Channel Factory, highlights the issue of misinformation and fake news and suggests some ways that brands can help counteract the problem.

There is no question that YouTube has had its work cut out for it recently to tackle the spread of misinformation. Over the past few months, UK national newspapers have reported cases in which the platform found particularly difficult to prevent the diffusion of disreputable content, including conspiracy videos, fake news and propaganda. Managing the considerable amount of misinformation circulating online is, indeed, one of the main challenges YouTube is facing.

The risk of misinformation running online is higher in times of war

As a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the risk of misinformation, fake news and propaganda spreading online is increasing dramatically. Although fake news has always been weaponised in times of war, the digital technology currently available facilitates its diffusion at an unprecedented rate. This is particularly evident in the case of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. For instance, the Russian false claims, widely disseminated across numerous social media platforms, that President Volodymyr Zelensky had fled Kiev aimed to dishearten Ukrainians’ fierce resistance.

The spread of misinformation online, mainly on the part of Russian-backed channels, is reaching a dangerous point. According to Cyabra, a disinformation monitoring platform, on February 14th content against Ukraine on Twitter increased by over 11,000% compared to the previous days. With this in mind, some advertisers, that are unaware of where their ads are running, are unwittingly funding or supporting channels propagating misinformation and propaganda.

Maintaining a strong digital presence is a major challenge for brands

The current situation poses significant challenges to companies advertising on YouTube and other platforms. How can brands maintain a strong online presence and engage with their audience while ensuring they are not monetising inappropriate channels or propagating misinformation?

Although there is no magic formula, the following actions will help companies place advertisements that are suitable for both brands and channels.

The first key action is the development of thoughtfully curated blocklists based on keywords. This allows brands to trace and block suspicious content promptly and efficiently. The keyword lists we provide are free and can be used on any other online platforms besides YouTube.

The second action is the creation of inclusion lists, which help brands and media companies alike reference YouTube and other online video platform channels regarded as reliable sources of information. This, in turn, greatly contributes to the demonetising of inappropriate channels.

As a global YouTube partner, we have first-hand experience of how an approach based on these two elements enables brands to achieve significant results and to take an active part in the fight against misinformation.

Channel Factory is fully committed to counteracting misinformation online. For this reason, we are collaborating with the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM). Established by the World Federation of Advertisers in 2019, GARM acts as a global forum in which advertisers and consumers work in synergy to devise solutions leading to a better and more secure digital media ecosystem.

Depending on the specific issue they are facing, companies can also establish links with other organisations. For instance, we are working with the Ukraine Ministry of Digital Transformation along with Google Ukraine to counter any kind of misinformation on the war with ads and channels transmitting accurate and complete information.

The power of inclusion lists

Brands need to go beyond the exclusion of the wrong content. Carefully curated blocklist strategies based on keywords, although essential, represent only the first step. Consumers are increasingly relying on brands showing strong corporate social responsibility. As highlighted in The Conscious Project, a research initiative that we carried out on a global scale in 2021, 69% of consumers prefer to buy from brands engaged with socially conscious causes. Brands are therefore expected to actively promote the right content by supporting YouTube channels, or other online platforms, that stand out for the delivery of verified information. Inclusion lists enable just this.

One of the main benefits inclusion lists bring is that they can be tailored to the specific features of each brand, including tone and messaging, targeting strategy and brand suitability parameters. Through the customisation of inclusion lists, brands can achieve total control over the channels they want their ads to appear on.

The Ukrainian crisis is another instance confirming that counteracting misinformation is of paramount importance for companies advertising online. Although the challenges ahead are vast, equipped with adequate technology and expertise, brands can play a pivotal role in the creation of a secure and trustworthy cyberspace.