PSSI: Disinformation as Business: Stakeholders’ Perspective

The spread of disinformation has been one for quite some time one of the most pressing security and political challenges. Disinformation diminishes trust in public institutions and obscuring political debates, which is a backbone of a functioning democracy.

In their most recent study, ‘Disinformation as Business: Stakeholders’ Perspective’, Prague Security Studies Institute (PSSI) researchers, Jonáš Syrovátka, Alena Zikmundová, Šimon Pinkas, and Vanessa Maderová, map the attitudes of relevant stakeholders towards the issue of online advertisement on websites spreading disinformation, and suggest the next steps in this area.

Some key highlights of their findings:

  • The spread of disinformation is not necessarily motivated solely by ideology – unfortunately for some “entrepreneurs” disinformation websites are a lucrative source of income.
  • The dominant model for digital advertising “programmatic advertising”, enhances the disinformation phenomenon, since advertisers do not choose where their ads are displayed, but only target individual customers. This not only leads to a heightened risk of brand damage in case a company’s ad appears on a website with problematic content.
  • A lack of awareness is often observed among advertisers, since not only they often do not understand the mechanism behind programmatic advertising, but also they do not have both the time and resources to think about ethical advertising as such.
  • When evaluating advertising campaigns, media agencies are mostly rated according to the quantifiable outcomes of a given campaign, and as a result, they are not incentivized to take into account the brand reputation of their client. This is does not mean that all firms and agencies are ignoring the issue completely, but there are still large discrepancies in awareness within the industry.
  • The potential risks associated with brand damage must not be ignored, as brand reputation is increasingly becoming a decisive factor for a new generation of consumers, often guiding their consumer behavior. Both the state institutions and the European Union are increasingly more sensitive to the issue and sooner or later they will try to disrupt the business model of websites spreading disinformation, by ‘inter-alia’ regulating the advertisers themselves.
  • It is of paramount importance to have cooperation with civil society actors focusing on disinformation. These initiatives can provide advertisers with up-to-date information and advice. In the Czech Republic, these initiatives are Konšpirá, who map disinformation sites, NELEŽ, which offers technological solutions to firms in managing programmatic advertising, and Fair Advertising, which alerts advertisers when their ads appear on disinformation sites.

You can read the full study here.