Data & Tech

Report: Google is still funding pro-Russia propaganda online

Google, the world’s largest digital advertiser, is still funding publishers of Russian disinformation
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As American businesses run from Russia, Google, the world’s largest digital advertiser, is still funding publishers of Russian disinformation, according to a report last week from NewsGuard, a company that, among other things, ranks and reviews publishers for advertisers.

  • Of 116 websites publishing what NewsGuard described as “publishing disinformation about the war in Ukraine,” and receiving programmatic advertising $$, 64% were monetized by Google.

Zoom out: The invasion of Ukraine has caused some advertisers to reassess how they view brand safety, raising questions about what content to fund, where to place it, and even when is best to run it—terrified of becoming the next Applebee’s. That often results in advertisers pulling or pausing their budgets from the news altogether.

Meanwhile, programmatic advertising allows for all sorts of weird stuff to make money—including disinformation and propaganda. According to data shared with Marketing Brew, NewsGuard found that Google was monetizing publishers like Pravda.Ru, Veterans Today, and ZeroHedge.

  • Unlike other brand safety vendors that rely on contextual tools, NewsGuard uses analysts (uh, real people) to rate and review publishers, scoring them on a scale of 0 to 100.
  • Google banned ZeroHedge from its ad platform over “policy violations found in the comments section of stories about recent Black Lives Matter protests” in 2020 but reversed the decision a month later after the publisher removed the offending comments.

State funded

Many advertisers don’t intentionally look to run on these sites, but because of programmatic advertising, they often do, which can fund the work of websites publishing stories that argue things like “Ukraine is illegitimate as a state.

“For too many advertisers and agencies, the first thought is ‘how do I stop supporting news,’” instead of “‘let me make sure I am not supporting disinformation sites,’” Gordon Crovitz, co-founder of NewsGuard, told Marketing Brew. Per Crovitz, the company has seen more “unsolicited inquiries from potential advertisers directly to our website this week than ever.”

Blocked, sorta: On February 26, Google formally stopped monetizing what it calls “Russian state-funded media,” including RT, TASS, and Sputnik News, but how does Google determine the difference between, say, “state-funded media” and the other publishers that NewsGuard identified? Google spokesperson Michael Aciman told us it uses “independent third-party sources as well as other signals” to determine “which publishers fall into this categorization.”. For everyone else, the platform takes a page-level approach.

“Our teams have been continuously evaluating sites and channels across our network and will take appropriate action as we detect additional state-funded media entities,” he said.

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Marketing Brew informs marketing pros of the latest on brand strategy, social media, and ad tech via our weekday newsletter, virtual events, marketing conferences, and digital guides.