Advertisers Don’t Care About Fake News Sites

Not yet. Soon, they might demand action from ad networks

Buzzfeed wrote “How Teens In The Balkans Are Duping Trump Supporters With Fake News”, and that their primary motivation is economic and not idealogical or political. Counting on free distribution of these questionable stories by credulous users, these website creators figure that “the best way to generate [social] shares… is to publish sensationalist and often false content that caters to Trump supporters”.

Source: CNN Money

Simply looking at one of the websites identified in the article, (anonymously registered via a privacy proxy) we see advertising from ad networks including those run by, Google and Revcontent (the latter a Florida-based company synonymous with anonymously-registered clickbait sites). This is how misinformation is funded: and remember, this is AFTER a large story came out naming this site, so it is highly likely that other ad networks were working with them before.

Here’s an example of a popular story on the site. The same story appears on other sites, too, for example (which may be run by the same people, but perhaps not):

Advertisers I’m seeing on this page include Air China, King Soopers, TruthFinder, Grammarly, and App Annie (all via Google), Norton (via Conversant), Spoutable, and of course the Revcontent clickbait ads.

The creation and distribution of fake and misleading news and disinformation is being financed by these ad networks. It’s almost impossible for an advertiser to audit this effectively, so my guess is most advertisers don’t care yet about being on these kinds of sites alongside fake news.

When display advertising exchanges and networks were flooded by lots of new low-cost traffic from piracy/download sites 5+ years ago, for the first year or two they were full of ad networks arbitraging brand advertising, until advertisers and their agencies eventually forced accountability and action (even still, arbitrage and redirection of this traffic through hidden iframes persisted and still does to some extent).

Perhaps it takes a while for the screenshots to filter up through the ad agency-industrial complex to arrive in the email inbox of some CMO or SVP of Marketing at the client, or for self-same SVP to visit those questionable sites from a shared link, their own retargeting cookies making sure they see their own brand on the site…

But it’s going to happen, and once big brand advertisers do care about fake news, the rest of the ad ecosystem will follow

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