Jo Allan
Dec 15, 2021

Advertisers continue to fund fake news and climate misinformation and they must stop

The ad industry has a responsibility to invest more heavily in trusted environments like news brands.

Advertisers continue to fund fake news and climate misinformation and they must stop

We live in an online world blighted by fake news and misinformation. Back in 2018, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found that false news spreads much faster on social than real news does – something like six times faster.

Given everything we’ve been through in the last couple of years, 2018 feels like a lifetime ago doesn’t it, but what has changed? Has the volume and pace of fake news slowed in any way?

Well, it would appear not. The issue of fake news has not gone away or slowed. In fact, it has got worse, become more pervasive and less easy to control.

Last year the World Health Organisation cautioned that fake news around Covid “spreads faster and more easily than this virus”.

But it’s not just the speed with which fake news can spread that should concern us. There’s money to be made – a lot of money. Fake news is clearly big business.

According to NewsGuard and ComScore, advertisers unwittingly spend about £2bn a year advertising on misinformation sites.

In the UK alone, that figure is estimated to be about £110m. That’s an eye-watering amount going to organisations and individuals who purposefully spread fake news and profit from it.

This has real-life consequences across all manner of world issues from climate to racism, migration and covid, with the most vulnerable in society often the most impacted.

If we take the issue of climate change, an issue that I know the advertising industry is taking incredibly seriously, two recent independent studies –  from the Centre for Countering Digital Hate and The Institute for Strategic Dialogue – found that climate denial is spreading unchecked on social media.

But the good news is that more and more people are waking up to this. There are more conversations about the need for more responsible media investment and advertisers and agencies are now more aware of where their advertising pounds are going, and the impact that they can have on society.

Last month the Conscious Advertising Network, supported by hundreds of signatories, published an open letter calling out social media companies around climate change misinformation, highlighting the advertising revenue this can generate.

At Newsworks, our own research shows that more than half the people in the UK are concerned about the levels of misinformation around climate change on social media, and 69% said that they are looking to news brands to tackle climate misinformation.

Quality, trusted journalism is more important than ever, and it is important in helping to tackle issues like climate change.

Over the past 10 years, news brands have seen an impressive rise in readership, with a huge spike last year as millions more people than ever before sought out trusted information about coronavirus that they knew they could rely on.

Every day, millions of people trust news brands to represent them, inform them, entertain them, inspire them, campaign for them and raise the issues that matter.

The magic of advertising happens when brands appear in places where there are real people, who are engaged in trusted and professionally crafted content. Seeing an ad in a quality environment drives greater engagement and better brand response.

Context has always been fundamental to advertising but in today’s world, the medium in which you advertise is as much the message as the actual message itself.

Claire Blunt from The Guardian summed it up best when she wrote recently in Campaign: “People notice where brands advertise and the media they choose to support. First and foremost, it should prove its effectiveness to deliver advertiser objectives, but a secondary consideration should surely be to think about its impact on the world.”

So, I am going to leave you with one thought: why isn’t the advertising industry investing more heavily in trusted environments like news brands?   

Jo Allan is chief executive of Newsworks. This is an edited version of a speech that she gave at Mindshare’s Huddle event in London.

Campaign UK

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