How brands can be at the forefront of the fight against disinformation online
As far as the ‘cyberspace’ is concerned, one of the most significant consequences of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is that the risk of disinformation circulating online has dramatically risen
Fake news has often been used as a weapon when military conflicts take place. Spreading red herrings to generate confusion among the enemies is, indeed, a powerful and proven strategy. Due to easy access to information online, this weapon has become more threatening than ever.
A remarkable example of fake news that spread widely at the outset of the war is that President Volodymyr Zelensky had abandoned his people, leaving the capital, Kiev, to seek protection elsewhere. As everyone now knows, this was a fake news story strategically crafted by the Russians with the aim of discouraging Ukrainian resistance and so obtaining an easy win.
Several pieces of research show that the amount of disinformation propagating online is alarming. Following Russia’s attack on Ukraine, Cyabra, an organization detecting and measuring the impact of disinformation online, tracked over 115,000 Twitter and Facebook accounts suspected of amplifying Russian propaganda. Cyabra analysts found out that on February 14th content against Ukraine on Twitter increased by over 11,000% compared to the previous days. Most of this content, moreover, originated from fake accounts, created shortly before the Russian invasion began.
The key role of blocklists and inclusion lists
In these trying circumstances, companies advertising online, including on YouTube, need to pay special attention to the content their ads appear next to. Building a solid online presence, a core objective for any brand, must not turn into monetizing questionable channels or contributing, albeit unwittingly, to the diffusion of disinformation.
Although this challenge is not easy to tackle, much can be done. A crucial element enabling companies to place ads that are suitable for both brands and channels is the creation of blocklists and inclusion lists.
Blocklists are based on keywords. The keyword lists we provide are free and, although originally created for YouTube, can be used on any online platform. Blocklist strategies allow advertisers to identify and block suspicious content promptly, so that their ads do not run on unsuitable channels.
Carefully curated blocklists based on keywords are certainly a practical and helpful tool, but represent only the first step. Nowadays brands are expected to go beyond the exclusion of the wrong content and to embrace inclusivity. It is well-known that consumers are increasingly engaging with brands attentive to the ESG agenda. The Conscious Project, a piece of research we undertook on a global scale in 2021, has revealed that 69% of consumers prefer to buy from brands committed to socially conscious causes.
This is where inclusion lists come into play. Thanks to inclusion lists, brands and media companies can reference YouTube and other digital platforms that they consider credible sources of information. By supporting reliable YouTube channels, companies play an active role in the promotion of accurate information. This, in turn, leads to the demonetizing of channels conveying harmful or ambiguous content.
Inclusion lists, it is worth stressing, can be adapted with surgical precision to the characteristics of each brand, from tone and messaging to targeting strategy and brand suitability parameters. In other words, the customization of inclusion lists empowers brands with full control over the channels they want to advertise on.
Unity is strength
The old adage ‘unity is strength’ is all the more true when it comes to countering disinformation online. For this reason, Channel Factory has built partnerships with like-minded organizations. We are collaborating, for instance, with the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM), a global forum, established by the World Federation of Advertisers in 2019, in which advertisers and consumers work together to shape a better and more secure digital media ecosystem. In the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we have also initiated a partnership with the Ukraine Ministry of Digital Transformation and with Google Ukraine. The purpose of the collaboration is to counteract disinformation on the war by promoting channels conveying verified and complete information.
As the German poet Hölderlin wrote, ‘where the danger is, also grows the saving power’. By leveraging the right technology and collaborating with other organisations, brands advertising on YouTube can maintain a robust digital footprint while contributing to the creation of a trustworthy cyberspace.