Advertisers Are Inadvertently Funding Russian Disinformation
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is underpinned and fueled by disinformation, by which Russia is using propaganda to create a false narrative about Ukrainian officials and the West to defend their invasion of Ukraine. The disinformation is so rampant that the US government released a “fact sheet” to discern reality. Barbara Buchanan, founder and CEO of MediaVax, said, “The Russian government continues to censor any media which mentions the words ‘war’ or ‘invasion’ in connection with military action. They will only allow it to be called a ‘special operation,’ which was designed to ‘de-Nazify’ and ‘de-militarize’ Ukraine.” These false narratives are fueling content shared across the open web and social platforms.
The Media Supply Chain Is Starting To Fight The Inertia And Act Against Disinformation
In February 2022, amid the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, Insider reported that Google served ads on two prominent ad-supported sites that are tied to the Kremlin — Sputnik News and TASS — for major brands, including Best Buy and Progressive. Brands are helping to fund the disinformation that fuels and supports Russia’s attack on Ukraine. In response to the disinformation machine churning content across the media landscape, players throughout the media supply chain are taking action to:
- Fight disinformation with truth. Publishers are attempting to battle disinformation and rectify the narrative on social platforms by posting credible information regarding the war. The Washington Post developed news content specific to TikTok that discusses the facts surrounding an attack on a Ukrainian nuclear plant. Twitter is rolling out a new program, Birdwatch, to crowdsource content fact-checking on the platform and stop the spread of misinformation.
- Shut down known bad actors. Reddit is taking decisive action to remove all potentially harmful content related to the war. It is actively blocking out all content that ties back to state-sponsored media.
- Label potential mis/disinformation with a warning. Meta put a Special Operations Center in place to make calls regarding misinformation on the platform. Unlike Reddit, it is not categorically removing content; instead, Meta is labeling posts stemming from state-controlled media.
Crucial Brand Safety Measures Could Defund Credible News Organizations
In Forrester’s January 2022 CMO Pulse Survey of 155 B2C marketing executives in the US, 60% said that the spread of misinformation/disinformation will impact their 2022 marketing strategy. This concern is relatively low compared with other factors, such as changing population demographics (76%) and the wealth gap (71%). After the past several weeks, this priority will likely become a more prominent concern for CMOs. As brands navigate a new frontier, they should take steps to put safety measures in place for their media. It might be tempting to turn directly to keyword blocking, but marketers should proceed with greater nuance. While blocking all content related to Ukraine and Russia feels safer, it also means advertisers are defunding publishers credibly reporting on the war. Instead, brands should:
- Better inform inclusion/exclusion lists. Use third-party data from the Global Disinformation Index and NewsGuard to inform which sites make the inclusion or exclusion list.
- Work directly with media partners. Partner with credible news publishers to determine a long-term plan for continued investment in their content that keeps the brand within suitable and safe content and avoids insensitive ad placements, as seen on CNN.
- Stay apprised of emerging brand safety products. As this issue ramps up, new companies such as MediaVax are starting to build products to improve safety on social platforms and ensure brands do not show up next to mis/disinformation.
Read my full report on the impact of mis/disinformation on the advertising industry in early Q2, and sign up for CX North America to see me speak on this issue.