Commentary

Some Display Ad Spend Supports Misinformation Sites

Advertisers are spending $2.6 billion a year on websites that publish false information, while undermining support for credible journalism, a study found. The findings are worrisome, and suggest that media buyers have more room for improvement in their programmatic ad spend.

About 1.7% of display ad spending worldwide goes to misinformation publishers, according to the estimate by media measurement firm Comscore and NewsGuard, the maker of a press watchdog technology.

The companies cross-referenced 7,500 websites whose traffic and ad costs are measured by Comscore against a database of 6,500 news and information websites whose credibility is rated by NewsGuard. It evaluates news and information sites using nine criteria such as “does not repeatedly publish false content.”

Considering that programmatic ad spending is about $155 billion worldwide, the study concludes that $2.6 billion is funneled into websites that publish “false health claims, anti-vaccine myths, election misinformation, partisan propaganda” and other kinds of fake news.

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Applying the same analysis to the U.S. programmatic market of $97 billion, as estimated by eMarketer, suggests that advertisers will spend $1.62 billion on misinformation sites this year. The spending is almost half of the $3.5 billion in digital advertising for U.S. newspapers last year, according to data from Pew Research Center.

NewsGuard acknowledges that its estimate may not fully reflect the scale of advertiser support for misinformation sites.''

“It is currently not possible for any entity to determine the precise amount of advertising going to misinformation sites,” according to NewsGuard. “Digital platforms that control a large share of the advertising market do not make their data public on how much ad revenue they deliver to particular misinformation sites each year.”

The study’s findings suggest that media buyers should be more mindful of their automated buys, perhaps with programmatic-direct deals with established media companies or private marketplaces (PMPs) whose publishers have been vetted for brand safety.

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