Brands Behaving Badly

Millions in ad dollars are helping spread COVID conspiracies, mostly without the the advertiser’s knowledge.

Someone tell me why big brands continue to fund fake news. Better yet, tell the brands: Their email addresses are below.

Adtech is such a clusterf√¢k of hackable code and amoral agencies that companies, without their knowledge, spend millions spreading COVID conspiracies.

We can change that: I’ve posted contacts for a few brands with screenshots of their ads on unsavory sites — unreliable sources in both the Iffy Index and NewsGuard’s Coronavirus Misinformation Tracking Center. The stats, screenshots, and quotes come from Global Disinformation Network research, “Ad-funded COVID-19 Disinformation: Money, Brands, and Tech” (PDF).

GDI estimates advertisers will unwittingly provide US$25 Million to nearly 500 English-language coronavirus disinformation sites in 2020.…

Merck ad on fake-news WBD article

Does this pharmco know they’ve paid to defame Dr. Fauci on an infamous fake-news site (WorldNetDaily: MBFC | NewsGuard | Wikipedia). Let’s tell, of Merck’s corporate responsibility, that their corp. is being irresponsible, and media relations’ that their relations need mediation. Here’s the email I sent:

Dear Merck,
Did you know your ads fund fake-news sites and COVID conspiracy theories? The Global Disinformation Network found yours among the millions of dollars of ads helping spread medical misinformation.

See the screenshot of your Merck ad on the fake-news WND site:

These ads can run without the advertiser’s knowledge. Now you know. I’m sure your company wants to be part of the solution. But, until you fix this, you’re part of the pandemic/infodemic problem.

Thanks for your attention,
Barrett Golding

It hurts more when our own media colleagues are among the culprits, like Bloomberg News sponsoring a website “known for publishing falsehoods and spreading hoaxes” (Gateway Pundit: MBFC | NewsGuard | Wikipedia). I emailed this bad news to

Bloomberg News ad on fake-news Gateway Pundit article

Each ad dollar paid out to these sites deprives trusted media sites covering the COVID-19 pandemic of much needed revenue.…

I’m sure and, of L’Oreal media room, would love to hear how their ads pay to keep us in public-health hell (American Thinker: MBFC | NewsGuard | Wikipedia) .

L'Oreal ad on fake-news American Thinker article

COVID-19 disinformation has real world harms.…

Canon’s ad ended up above a lying headline on a “Questionable Source” (Big League Politics: MBFC | NewsGuard | Wikipedia). Are the folk aware of their life-threatening folly?

Canon ad on fake-news Big League Politics article

It has cost countless lives in — from Iran to India to the U.S. and beyond.

And how did an ad from the august British Medical Association end up on a site that “promotes conspiracy theories and falsehoods” (Global Research: MBFC | NewsGuard | Wikipedia)? The BMA’s and teams would die to know they’ve helped an anti-vax article go viral.

British Medical Association ad on fake-news GlobalResearch article

I’ve sent mails to the above unsuspecting advertisers of propaganda. If any reply, I’ll update here.

Advertisers must close the funding “back door” that the ad supported services from Google, Amazon and others provide to COVID-19 conspiracies, hate speech and other forms of disinformation.

Now is the time for a whole-of-industry solution to a whole-of-industry problem. Are advertisers up for it?

GDI “Why is ad tech paying US$25 million to COVID-19 disinfo sites?”

Update 2020-07-31: Merck got back to me to say I had the wrong Merck: There our two pharmcos with that same name, theirs, Merck & Co., Inc., in USA/Canada, and Merck KGaA headquartered in Germany, whose ad appears above, now changed to the latter’s links and emails. Emailed Merck KGaA.

Update 2020-08-04: Merck KGaA replied quickly: “Thanks a lot for reaching out. We have not been aware of our ad ending up on WND and immediately asked our partner to take this down and to exclude this website from any further ad postings. We are also working with our agency to ensure similar websites are also excluded from future ads.” Progress!