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Home » Tackling misinformation is an ecosystem-wide mission | What’s New in Publishing

Tackling misinformation is an ecosystem-wide mission | What’s New in Publishing

Zefr’s Emma Lacey dissects the role misinformation is having on the entire media landscape, and puts forward a number of key recommendations. TL;DR: Platforms, publishers, and brands must work together to reduce the impact of misinformation from all directions…

Digital media players don’t need reminding how serious the issue of misinformation has become. In recent years, publishers have seen rising brand anxiety about potential association with unreliable news cutting off large swathes of essential ad revenue; first during the Covid pandemic and then amid the Ukraine war. Meanwhile, brands have faced tougher scrutiny from ethically-conscious audiences who hold them responsible for where their ads are placed. And for platforms, weeding out misinformation is proving an increasingly difficult task; especially in high-output video arenas that see more than three million uploads daily.

Posing a major risk to the future of the entire ecosystem, misinformation is a challenge that needs tackling – and not just by a single player. Addressing the problems that misleading and incorrect content pose for sustainable monetisation, brand reputation, and user trust will require a collective effort, where all sides play their part.

The push for platforms to continue developing

Video platforms aren’t unaware of misinformation’s negative impacts – especially when it comes to the accidental spread of fake, or even harmful, news and subsequent damage to audience trust. Recognising their responsibility to help address these challenges, several leading platforms have moved to take direct action.

Back in 2017, Facebook unveiled a multi-pronged strategy to address issues; which included disrupting economic incentives for bad actors, building new products, and enabling informed user decisions. For example, Facebook prompts users to read articles in full before sharing them on the platform. More recently in 2022, Google and YouTube increased investment in fact-checking organisations to help them identify misinformation.

While these are positive steps, fighting misinformation is a large-scale, complex battle that can’t be won in a single hit. As part of continued efforts, it’s essential for platforms to keep developing mechanisms that make it easier for brands to sort good from harmful content and adapt as new technologies evolve – and shifts in this direction are increasing. For example, TikTok is actively embracing measurement tools that “will allow advertisers and agencies to better monitor the content surrounding their messages on TikTok.”

Suitability scope for publishers

The most obvious difficulty misinformation has created for publishers is losing vital ad revenue, as brands deploy overzealous precautions to minimise the chances of serving ads beside undesirable content – such as keyword blocking. They have also faced the knock-on effects on user trust.

With just three in ten users now trusting online news, ebbing audience confidence is affecting other areas of monetisation, such as the ability to fuel revenue via subscriptions, as distrustful users are less likely to pay for content.

The general industry perception has been that publishers can do little to fight misinformation other than by raising and holding the flag for truthful content as high as possible. Following this logic, some media heavyweights have opted to directly counteract misinformation by increasing their presence in key environments, including social video platforms. The Washington Post’s ongoing TikTok presence is a good example of this, with the publication posting a mix of content including original series and comedy since 2019, as well as actively participating in Misinformation Mondays.

Scope remains, however, for publishers to play a greater part in the reduction of misinformation, by enabling in-depth contextual assessment of their media properties. Publishers can more actively tackle the issue of misinformation by allowing brands to use suitability tools to evaluate the content and thereby providing assurance of quality and accuracy.

Brands must increase efforts in supporting quality

Brands equally face significant risks, such as tarnishing their company’s image in the eyes of consumers and the unwitting association with unsuitable content which can lead to wasted ad spend.

The greatest ace brands hold is their power as media buyers. Thus far, influential leaders have urged brands to cut off funding for low-quality content; typically through exclusion and inclusion lists, which are woefully ill-equipped for digital media, especially video. There is, however, a need for them to dial up their role in supporting quality content and consider new technologies for more accurately targeting content by embracing versatile approaches of assessing content suitability.

To be specific, buyers must embrace positive discrimination; directing spend towards reputable, trustworthy content that aligns with their key values and principles. For example, brands can use GARM’s suitability framework to set acceptable floors for automated media buying, as well as using discriminative AI tools that harness human insight to drive scaled yet detailed contextual evaluation of ad placements.

As the tendrils of misinformation stretch further, there is an urgent need for every inhabitant of the digital ecosystem to start pushing back where they can. Platforms, publishers, and brands must work to reduce its impact from all directions; curbing the flow of spend that feeds fake and misleading content, while fuelling initiatives aimed at making it easier for buyers – and audiences –  to spot and support quality content.

Emma Lacey

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