April 11, 2022

Ad-Funded Disinformation on the Ukraine Conflict: Ad tech companies, affected brands, policy solutions (Week 3)

Disinformation on the conflict in Ukraine continues to be funded via advertising

GDI has studied a selection of popular brand ads appearing next to anti-Ukrainian and anti-Democratic disinformation. This deck includes stories that have harmful adversarial narratives that falsely claim or advocate that:

  • De-nazification: Ukrainians are “Nazis” and “Banderites” who attack civilians. Russia is carefully, methodically and surgically eliminating these Nazis. 
  • Biological threat: The U.S. government has set up bioweapons labs in Ukraine that are developing “ethnic weapons” to attack Russians. 

The adversarial narratives have been found across multiple countries and languages (English, French, and Russian).

Ad tech companies servicing these ads & funding these stories include Google, Criteo, RevContent, Xandr, and Yandex.

To prevent further funding — and diminish incentives to produce this content — critical action is needed now.

Effective Policy Development

Improving our information ecosystem and preventing offline harms is possible. Some of the Immediate policy interventions that would help include:

  • Accountability: Ensure greater accountability for arbitrary actions and inactions by platforms particularly in relation to international human rights law and other legal obligations.
  • Transparency & Data access: Ensure civil society and vetted third parties can access Platform data for scrutiny.
  • Crisis management mechanism: Develop a crisis management mechanism “to oblige Platforms to take targeted impact assessments and mitigation actions.”

Pivotally, the European Commission, Council and Parliament trialogue discussion on DSA is at a critical stage. Two important articles that have direct impact on reducing the harms of disinformation include:

  • Article 17 — Strengthening the internal complaint handling mechanism for users.
  • Article 26 — Risk assessment, mitigation of risks and algorithms accountability.

In addition, the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights advises companies to carry out human rights due diligence that involves identifying and mitigating and adverse impacts on human rights. It is vital to ensure the DSA takes a similar inclusive approach.

Example of Google placing ads on Disinformation sites

“While commendable that Google demonetised this article, further action is needed to effectively demonetise disinformation and its harms.”

To see more examples of how popular brands are unwittingly supporting disinformation websites and thereby helping promote toxic adversarial narratives, read our full study.

This study is part of an ongoing series on disinformation, conspiracy theories and more that focus on bolstering adversarial narratives in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

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