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Press Release updated: Oct 15, 2020

Well-known companies—from multinational news conglomerates to major clothing and apparel chains—are inadvertently funding nearly 200 sites carrying U.S. election disinformation such as divisive stories about voter fraud, deep state conspiracies, and targeted hate against various groups, according to a new report by Global Disinformation Index.

Major ad tech companies serve the ads that are being placed next to this harmful content.

Some key research findings on these 200 sites include:

  • Electoral disinformation is clustered around four areas: dangerous and unfit candidates and voters (PEOPLE); broken and rigged systems (PROCESSES); flawed oversight bodies (INSTITUTIONS); and meddling outside actors (INFLUENCE).
  • Sites carrying electoral disinformation tend to repeat the same topics and are likely to publish disinformation in their other news coverage.  
  • These 200 sites earn at least US $1 million every month from ads placed on them.
  • Google provides ad services on 77% of the sites in our sample. The other top companies are Amazon (16%), Xandr (14%), Revcontent (13%) and Taboola (6%).
  • The five worst ad-funded sites in our sample for U.S. election-related disinformation are: Breitbart, The Western Journal, The Epoch Times, RT and Sputnik News.

These findings come from GDI’s independent assessment of these sites and related content performed using machine learning technology.

GDI’s research also analysed over 75 top traffic U.S. news sites to rate their disinformation risks. We used an expert-vetted risk rating process. Of the assessed sample, six U.S. news sites were rated with the lowest disinformation risks: National Public Radio (NPR), The New York Times, Reuters, USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.

Brands and advertisers can use such ratings to play a powerful role in supporting trusted content and avoiding funding high-risk sites spreading disinformation.

“We know that advertisers don’t want to fund disinformation relating to the U.S. election,” said Clare Melford, GDI co-founder and executive director. “Brands must have more oversight and control over where their ads are placed—and what content profits from them.”

This GDI disinformation primer is to help brands and advertisers inform their operations and policies in the U.S. elections and beyond.

Contact Information: For questions or interviews, please contact Tyler Zang at media@disinformationindex.org.

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About the methodology

The GDI uses machine-learning-based topic models to identify adversarial narrative content across tens of thousands of English language sites. These topic models can distinguish between credible news coverage of a topic and highly divisive disinformation on the same topic with over 90% accuracy.

For the human review of sites, GDI applied its risk rating methodology to the U.S. media market. The findings are based on some of the most popular news sites in the U.S. and the full findings are forthcoming. The GDI worked with Henry M. Jackson School at the University of Washington.

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About GDI  

The Global Disinformation Index is a UK-based not-for-profit which is non-political and non-partisan. The GDI aims to disrupt and defund disinformation. For more information, visit www.disinformationindex.org

Source: Global Disinformation Index