Misinformation and disinformation are both proliferating today and consequently polluting minds. While both misinformation and disinformation can deceive audiences and thus both pose a real danger, the distinction is that disinformation is intentionally, maliciously deceptive.

According to a recent study from NewsGuard, $2.6 billion per year is spent by big brands advertising on websites that carry misinformation on various topics, from anti-vaccine, climate change, and more.

Due to the lack of transparency that’s baked into programmatic advertising, many brands spend money on bogus information sites without conscious knowledge that they’re funding the decline of civil society.

That’s no excuse, just a sad statement of fact.

In related news, DirecTV is dropping One America News Network from its lineup in a massive blow to the far-right faux news network.

OAN is still available on Verizon FiOS and a few other platforms.

Is Spotify Also A Super Spreader?

A group of 270 experts recently penned an open letter addressed to Spotify condemning its top-rated show, “The Joe Rogan Experience.” The doctors, researchers, and healthcare professionals who co-signed the statement expressed concern that the podcast’s outspoken 54-year-old host (and Austin, Texas resident), is making millions on the dissemination of bogus medical advice — to the health detriment of his listeners.

The experts wrote that Rogan has a “concerning history of broadcasting misinformation, particularly regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Will Spotify see itself as complicit in the spread of disinformation and make a course correction? Let’s not hold our breath.

Closing the Lid on Junk Merchants

The NewsGuard study referenced above makes it clear that the profit motive—not just political ideology—is a large driver of disinformation.

Misinformation publishers can produce low-cost fake news, regardless of whether it is inaccurate or harmful in any way, and use it to compete for clicks and ad dollars with legitimate journalism organizations spending millions on reporters, editors, and fact-checkers to produce accurate content. In other words, because misinformation does not cost much to produce, each ad dollar spent on misinformation goes further toward producing fake news than each ad dollar spent on legitimate media outlets goes toward producing credible journalism.

NewsGuard now provides exclusion lists of untrustworthy sites, enabling advertisers for the first time to instruct their ad agencies and ad-tech partners to keep their programmatic ads off these sites.

The Sources of Anti-Vax Content

The Center for Countering Digital Hate earlier this year estimated that about 65% of the social media content containing false claims about coronavirus vaccines could be traced back to just a dozen influencers.

“These are old-fashioned snake-oil salesmen,” said Imran Ahmed, CEO of the CCDH. “They are willing to let people suffer death, disease in order to make profits for themselves.”

His group also claims that Big Tech makes a billion dollars per year from the spread of anti-vax disinformation.

What Marketing Professionals Can Do

It’s a damn shame that we don’t have laws and a willing public to combat this nonsense. It also sucks that media literacy is not taught in our schools or practiced in our homes.

Because it’s all too easy for a brand to make missteps today, to associate with the wrong crowd, and fund the charlatans, extra attention and due diligence is called for.

As brand guardians, it’s time for agency personnel to take a more active role in fighting the misinformation scourge, first by acknowledging the issue, then finding new and better means of pushing misinformation to the curb.