Sabrina Sanchez
Mar 11, 2021

Brands spent at least $235 million on disinformation sites last year

DoubleVerify report shows disinformation and hate speech spiked in 2020.


Despite being at the top of marketers’ agendas for the past few years, brand safety is still a huge and growing concern.  

report from verification company DoubleVerify shows brands spent at least US$235 million in advertising on sites linked to disinformation in 2019, based on GDI estimates

That has grown over the last year, as spikes in disinformation related to Covid-19 and the 2020 election, along with a rise in hate speech and other harmful content, have compounded the issue. That’s despite platforms such as TikTok cracking down on misinformation and boosting efforts to provide verified information.  

Disinformation increased 83% year over year on social media leading up to the presidential election, and vaccine disinformation jumped 400% when Pfizer and BioNTech announced their Covid-19 vaccines were +90% effective on November 9. 

Hate speech surged 212% in June 2020 as Black Lives Matter protests took place across the country. After levelling off in late summer, inflammatory speech rose again following the first presidential debate in September 2020. 

For brands, programmatic buying strategies that don’t offer much transparency into where advertisements show up can exacerbate the issue, as can blunt approaches to keyword blocking, said Zachary Hecht, senior policy manager at DoubleVerify.

But because disinformation spikes are often tied to major news events, brands need to be careful when excluding major topics that they don’t catch legitimate news in the net. 

“[Brands] shouldn't necessarily be using a broad keyword [blocking] approach to avoid topics,” Hecht said. “Instead, [they] should be taking the more nuanced approach.” 

That can involve classifying content to provide context for a page and update site and app exclusion lists frequently. Brands should also add trusted news sites to “page exception” lists to avoid demonetizing news while avoiding harmful contents.  

“[We’re trying to] make sure that our clients understand their role in the information system, and understand that supporting trusted news content is brand safe,” Hecht said.

Campaign US

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