The Role of Advertisers and Platforms in Monetizing Misinformation: Descriptive and Experimental Evidence

Workshop’s Topic: We examine how online misinformation is financially perpetuated, focusing on the role that advertisers and digital advertising platforms play in funding misinformation offerings. We find that advertising on misinformation platforms is ubiquitous for companies across industries. Our data show that firms that use online advertising platforms are significantly more likely to appear on misinformation platforms than firms that do not. Using an incentive-compatible information experiment with a representative sample of the US population, we show that people drop out, i.e., reduce their demand for a companys products or services, when they learn of its role in monetizing misinformation via online ads. This drop in demand continues even after consumers learn of the significant role that advertising platforms and other companies play in monetizing misinformation. Consumers also express concerns about advertising companies and digital advertising platforms for monetizing misinformation. Our second experiment with senior decision makers and managers shows that they are poorly informed about their companys role in monetizing misinformation. Moreover, those who are uncertain about their role in monetizing misinformation increase their demand for a platform-based solution to reduce the monetization of misinformation after receiving information treatment. Our results suggest that companies advertising on misinformation websites may face consumer backlash when they discover the prevalence of such ads. Information about the placement of such ads and transparency around programmatic advertising could be important for companies, as our survey of executives suggests that advertising companies may be inadvertently funding misinformation.

Time and Location: 10:00-11:30 AM (GMT+8), Room A823 (School of Management)

Language: English