The drive for clicks: The coronavirus, misinformation and digital advertising

Online media and digital advertising go hand in hand. Media companies need advertising to make money, so they write articles that get as many clicks as possible. This often means sensationalism, the use of fear and, sometimes, using hate. And sadly, this doesn’t change in times of a global pandemic.

Coronavirus is among the most-read, most-Googled topic on the planet right now. And some parts of the media are cashing in by spreading misinformation and fear to get clicks.

There have been some shocking examples in recent days. This article debunks a TV news report in India that claimed young people were refusing coronavirus tests on religious grounds. YouTube has also been accused of allowing millions of people to watch dangerous misinformation. And the Daily Express published an article discussing a widely-circulated conspiracy theory about the origins of the virus.

As Patrik Sinha, founder of Indian fact-checking site Alt News, says, “Misinformation always plays on the fault lines of our fears and deepest beliefs”.

Luckily, we know how these tactics work. We’ve all spent the last few years letting companies know when their adverts are funding hate and fear. And we can’t stop now.

The effects of fear and misinformation about coronavirus

These tactics are directly harmful. Just as media hate against migrants leads to hate crimes on the streets, misinformation about coronavirus can fuel hate against certain groups of people. And false theories about miracle cures or government tactics, can endanger lives. As outlined in this Buzzfeed article, these theories can spread more than ever thanks to social media, which, let’s not forget, also makes its money from advertising.

So what do we do? The same thing we’ve been doing since Stop Funding Hate began. We tell companies that we don’t want our money funding this fear and misinformation.

How you can help

If you see advertisers on this article from OpIndia, mentioned above, let them know. Please send them a polite and friendly tweet, Facebook message or email. We’ve already seen UberEats on there, a company that is positioning itself as providing a vital service right now, and WordPress. OpIndia have added an update to the article stating that the original story was false. However, it is still online and still being funded by advertisers.

Or if you see any dangerous misinformation on YouTube, let the advertisers know. You can tag us on Twitter or Facebook. And if you want to send us examples, use this form. This is something positive we can all do. Let’s use #StopFundingHate tactics to make a better, fairer media when we all need it most.