Misinformation

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It is our belief that democracy, public health, the climate, and more are under threat from a pandemic of disinformation and misinformation funded by advertising.

Advertisers can play a key role in defunding dis/misinformation and promoting quality journalism from diverse sources to support credible narratives.

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The Leadership Position

Advertising can support the fight against disinformation and misinformation by funding reputable, high-quality, and publicly accountable publishers and broadcasters; taking swift action against publishers who peddle inaccuracies for commercial gain; and supporting public education around critical evaluation of media content quality and trustworthiness.

Advertisers should also take action to ensure that they do not inadvertently fund disinformation. The suppression of viable and accurate information is a form of misinformation in its own way.

Strong positions should not automatically be classified as disinformation. This manifesto aims to support pluralistic, quality journalism and content.

However, it confronts misinformation/disinformation that either intentionally or unintentionally seeks to deceive. Please also see CAN’s Hate Speech Manifesto which articulates how mis/disinformation targets particular groups or minority communities.

The Commercial Imperative

For brands and advertisers, this presents both a commercial risk, and a potential opportunity. If advertisers reward publishers who are more accountable and produce high-quality journalism, this could both drive up quality and reduce inaccurate and misleading content.

Increasingly, consumers choose brands that align with their own values – appearing alongside misleading content now presents a reputational risk, while there is brand value for organisations that take a leading position on this contentious issue.

For advertisers, the use of misleading content to increase traffic falsely distorts the market; suppressing the misinformation industry has the potential to level the playing field.

Funding mis/disinformation also risks advertising effectiveness. The ASA has a mandate to tackle deceptive advertising, so this manifesto will focus predominantly on deceptive content.

We urge organisations to follow and include these commitments in all agency briefs:

Develop Internal Policies

  • Create a misinformation policy which identifies what it is, and what the company’s expected behaviours are when dealing with it, based on your brand values and this manifesto. We recommend basing definitions on the 4A’s white paper, which defines disinformation as content created or distributed with the intent to deceive, while misinformation is distributed without the intent to deceive.
  • Develop special policies to address sensitivities around protected/diverse groups’ understanding of health-related issues and related to climate change and biodiversity misinformation. Please refer to the Change the Narrative report on climate, and Avaaz for health-based information.
  • Implement an inclusion list on all buys, or exclusion list blocking disinformation along with other harmful content.
  • Review your keyword block list every month to be certain you are not defunding high-quality journalism covering large scale news events or covering misinformation itself.

Audit Suppliers, SSPs, DSPs, social platforms, by assessing:

  • Their policies against misinformation, disinformation, harmful content, and enforcement.
  • Third-party technology partners they work with.
  • First-party controls to prevent monetisation of mis/disinformation.
  • Cross-matching their supply with:
    • Known lists of disinformation sites, such as those maintained by The Global Disinformation Index, NewsGuard, Centre for Countering Digital Hate, Desmog, and EU Database.
    • IP-infringing domains (PIPCU & WIPO), known fraudulent domains

Given that many news organisations take a polarising position to identify themselves with a target user segment, the differentiation between subjective, partisan journalism and fake, irresponsible, and low-quality journalism is not clear-cut and subjective decisions will have to be made. Advertisers should:

  • Endeavour to avoid advertising any media which commercialise inaccuracies, distort facts, and do not clearly label opinion and conjecture, harass individuals, peddle rumours, hoaxes, and conspiracy for commercial gain, or which promote misinformation about climate change science or public health. And report to local regulators, the publications or platforms that do.
  • Seek to positively support, through advertising, media which display the 18 clauses of quality and trustworthy journalism set out by and certified by the Reporters Without Borders Journalism Trust Initiative.

Audit publishers on your inclusion list by:

  • Complying with the AOP Ad Quality Charter around supply-chain auditing.
  • Assessing their policies against misinformation, disinformation, harmful content, and enforcement.
  • Using third parties to inform your vetting (GDI, NewsGuard sites with a score above 90, Storyzy, etc.)
  • Disinformation is often paired with fraud. Use all verification reporting (high fraud, low viewability, blocked for other harmful content etc.) as a proxy to understand the quality of the domain/app. Read to our Ad Fraud Manifesto for more details.

Ad Placement & Transparency

  • Avoid misplacement of ads through rigorous use of ad-verification tools, inclusion lists and manual vetting.

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