Earlier in June, we discussed the important role publishers play in reducing the incidence of fake news, or at least calling it out as such. Ubiquitous advertising platforms like Google and Facebook are addressing these concerns, but their size and reach make their properties breeding grounds for fake news.
DoubleVerify released a report last month on media quality and ad fraud, which pointed to fake news as “a global problem with local impact, with a direct correlation between terrorist and political events and the increase in fake news.”
In step with DoubleVerify’s analysis, a wide range of smaller, stealthy fake news sites have popped up. Marc Goldberg, CEO of Trust Metrics, offered additional insights into why they might succeed -- and what can be done to push back.
RTBlog: Platforms are revising their policy and staffing to address fake news and review fraudulent sites that disseminate fake news. Do you think this will solve the problem?
Goldberg: Everything does help if it deters creators -- but like all policies, loopholes exist. A common practice for some of these sites is to be labeled as satire.
These Web sites are using a disclosure statement mentioning they have satirical content.
If you look closely, you will see [this statement] in six-point font buried on the “about us” page. This meets minimum guideline requirements so the site is not fake news, it is satire. These sites are designed to be deceptive, to game policy and users while making a lot of money.
RTB: But they are disclosing that they are satire and not fake news, so what’s the problem?
Goldberg: If a proper disclosure justifies inclusion into the advertising ecosystem because it is acceptable under advertising platforms policy, then it’s up to media buyers.
Intent is everything. I really believe that both agencies and advertisers need to care about where their ads end up. They must define an environment with a whitelist rather than taking a blacklist approach. We all play a role. We shouldn’t support a site simply because it serves ads -- advertisers can be selective.
Why are people high-fiving because they served an ad to a human?
Fake news sites disguised as satire will continue to play games to get advertising dollars and disrupt the political process.
I would recommend that advertisers approach the satire category differently now, and white-list only known satirical quantities like The Onion or The Borowitz Report if they feel comfortable being adjacent to this type of content.
But the policy and disclosure determined by the platforms don’t apply to the media-buying process. Media buyers have always owned their sensitivities and their thresholds, and should be requesting and buying what they want.
RTB: With so many fake news sites out there, how do you make the argument to apolitical advertisers that they should avoid sites that reach their target demographics?
Goldberg: Some brands are just trying to reach a specific cookie, but others have their own brand safety criteria and thresholds to determine what is acceptable. RTB is not just real-time bidding.
RTB needs to also be, "Remember the brand." Porn sites sees millions of unique users every month. Would you want to run your ads there if your target is there?
It is important to set an environment that is brand-safe and high-quality and then follow with demographics, viewability, etc.
It is also important to know the intent of these sites is to steal your ad dollars. So shouldn't we ask media buyers why they continue to allow it?
RTB: When it comes to the actual cost of serving ads on these various properties, do you see strong variation between CPMs on fake news sites that call themselves “satire” and more established publishers?
Goldberg: I believe we are already seeing a bit of a separation from low-value inventory, with more buyers committed to quality.
Regardless, if [publishers] label a site news or satire, it won’t stop them from making money.
These type of sites don’t play by the rules. They don’t care about user experience or sales channel conflicts. They load up pages with ads and set low CPMs with the goal to make as much money as fast as possible before getting caught.