May 25, 2022

Ukraine Conflict Series: ad-funded disinformation, corporate responsibility and policy solutions (Report 5)

Report Summary

The Global Disinformation Index has observed a number of ad tech companies monetising anti-Ukrainian and anti-democratic disinformation. The most prevalent themes observed include:

  • Western aggression: Under President Joe Biden’s watch, the U.S. instigated a war with Russia. There was an anti-constitutional coup d'etat in 2014 in which Western-backed extremists overthrew the democratically elected government. 
  • NATO bioweapons threat: The U.S. and other NATO allies have military biological projects in Ukraine.
  • Legitimate intervention: At the request of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, the Russian Federation started a ‘special operation’ to protect them.

These disinformation narratives have been identified across multiple websites in multiple languages.

Ad tech companies servicing these ads and funding these stories include Google, MGID and Criteo.

Ad tech publisher policies must be updated and enforced. Most ad tech companies’ publisher policies do not adequately address the breadth of disinformation narratives associated with the conflict in Ukraine.

As of May 23 2022, the companies found servicing these sites have announced the following policies:  

This image covers a select group of ad tech publisher policies on funding disinformation narratives on the conflict in Ukraine. Google, Criteo and MGID are the three examples. Only Google has any policy to address the conflict.

GDI calls for effective policy enforcement.

An urgent, long-term and industry-wide solution is needed to end the monetisation of harmful disinformation.

This enforcement should prioritise at an EU and global level the following areas:

  • Risk assessments: Guaranteeing that all systemic risks (such as disinformation, election manipulation, cyber violence, harms to minors online)  are catalogued by the Very Large Online Platforms (VLOPs), not just the most prominent and recurrent risks.
  • Data access: Ensuring civil society has access to relevant and timely platform data in order to provide third party scrutiny.
  • Oversight: In the case of the Digital Services Act, establishing a multistakeholder advisory  board to oversee implementation with experts drawn from civil society.
  • Effectiveness: Adversarial narrative framing should be included within regulatory regimes to tackle the scope of harmful content.

GDI calls for ad tech companies to take immediate action.

  • Policy enforcement: Ad tech companies should develop and enforce supply quality policies that specifically address narrative-led disinformation. 
  • Audit: Sellers should review existing publisher partnerships and take action against those that infringe on policies.
  • Demonetisation: Sites that consistently infringe on supply quality policies should be completely demonetised. Removing ads only from infringing content allows offending websites to continue to profit from digital advertising.
  • Data: Sellers should pass disinformation risk scores in the bid stream, allowing advertisers to more easily avoid inadvertently funding disinformation content.

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