Malicious actors peddle disinformation for myriad reasons. They may be highly organised nation states motivated by geopolitical aims, private marketing companies acting on behalf of political or commercial organisations, or ad hoc communities of like-minded individuals motivated by a shared ideology. But GDI’s founding thesis is that the majority of disinformation on the web is motivated by financial gain, the result of the dominant attention-driven business models that drive today’s internet.
This is where GDI focuses its efforts. To reduce disinformation, we need to remove the financial incentive to create it. Brands unwittingly provide an estimated quarter of a billion dollars annually to disinformation websites through online advertisements placed on them. GDI uses both human and artificial intelligence to assess disinformation risk across the open web. We then provide these risk ratings to brands and advertising technology partners, providing them with a trusted and neutral source of data with which to direct their advertising spend.
GDI views disinformation through the lens of adversarial narrative conflict. Disinformation occurs when someone pushes an intentionally misleading narrative which is adversarial against democratic institutions, scientific consensus or an at risk group — and which carries a risk of harm. Often these narratives are crafted using selected elements of fact.
Whenever someone peddles an intentionally misleading narrative, often crafted using selected elements of fact, that is adversarial in nature against an at-risk individual, group, or institution and that creates a risk of harm, disinformation is being spread. Adversarial narratives undermine trust in our social, political, economic, and scientific institutions and sow or exacerbate division within our societies, often leading to real world harms, including violence, illness and death.
The harms from adversarial narratives are increasingly evident across the world. From burgeoning hate speech and harassment to conspiracy theories and extremism, individuals are harmed emotionally, financially and physically as a result of toxic online content. At a societal level, increasing division and distrust of each other and of the institutions that make up our societies is eroding democratic progress, giving populists and authoritarians increasing visibility and power at the expense of competent and independent voices. No less than civilization’s progress since the Enlightenment is at stake.
Advertiser spending pays for much of the open internet. The current state of our online discourse is creating huge brand risk for the advertisers whose ad spend pays for much of the internet. With little visibility into where adverts bought on the open programmatic web end up, advertisers are limited in their ability to stop their brands from appearing next to toxic content. The current state of brand safety means that many pieces of content that could endanger a brand are still monetised. It also means that much quality journalism is not receiving funding because of blunt, automated blocking tools. Advertisers have a right to transparency over where their advertising dollars end up and to ensure that they are not inadvertently funding the sorts of divisive content causing such harm around the world.