Platform policies struggle to keep pace in an increasingly dangerous advertising environment with few checks on simple inaccuracies through to deliberate disinformation campaigns

A new study by IPG Mediabrands examines the accelerating amount of inaccurate and misleading content appearing across online news outlets and social media platforms. The Dis/Misinformation Challenge for Marketers reveals the dramatic rise in both disinformation and misinformation; which social media outlets are making strides to eliminate misleading content, and those that are not; and what brands can do to ensure a more brand-safe environment.

The report cites a Pew Research Center study showing two-thirds of US news consumers believe social media has a negative effect on how information and news are shared, with one-third of that group citing the spread of misinformation as the major cause of that negative opinion. According to an ASEAN study conducted by Blackbox Research, Singaporeans are less reliant on social media platforms for their news content than the rest of the world. Skepticism towards the proliferation of misinformation made possible through social media channels, and highlighted by the spread of “fake news” throughout the pandemic is cited as a reason why 38% of Singaporeans do not consume their news from social media, vs. the global average of 12%. In the U.K., 85% of consumers told researchers in a study by the Trustworthy Accountability Group and Brand Safety Institute they would reduce or stop buying brands that advertised near COVID-19 misinformation.

In addition to brand advertising appearing alongside misleading and deliberately false content, in some cases, brands themselves are the topics of misleading content. A 2020 conspiracy campaign linked online furniture retailer, Wayfair, to child trafficking, and the out-of-the-blue theory that 5G caused the coronavirus, harming the entire telecom industry. Dis/misinformation creates real implications for brands, including cancel-culture backlash, which is leading to defense actions by marketers and agencies.

An example surfaced by Yonder, detailed how fringe narratives started by trolls on anonymous message boards started spreading rumors of empty shelves in late February 2020. These fringe narratives led to traction in mainstream social media platforms and then contributed to panic buying which had a significant impact on supply and business for many major retailers including Australian supermarket giant Woolworths.

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