Clare Melford, Global Disinformation Index Co-Founder, joins Yahoo Finance’s The First Trade with Alexis Christoforous and Brian Sozzi to discuss their recent report surrounding disinformation ahead of the 2020 election and much more.
ALEXIS CHRISTOFORUS: President Trump infuriated over Facebook and Twitter, stepping in to restrict a "New York Post" article that linked Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, to a Ukrainian energy company in a tweet posted last night. He called to repeal Section 230, which basically provides immunity for websites that publish third-party content.
I want to bring in Clare Medford now to discuss. She is one of the co-founders of the Global Disinformation Index. Clare, good to have you on the show again. You say that there are well-known companies out there, a lot of them unwittingly funding hundreds of sites that are carrying misinformation surrounding the election. Who are the biggest offenders?
CLARE MEDFORD: So we looked at the disinformation landscape from two different angles. We looked at the biggest sites in the US using a methodology to using actual people to assess them, and we also looked, using our algorithmic technology, at some of the longer tail sites.
And some of the sites that we discovered trafficking in the most-- what we would call-- hostile narratives around the election are sites such as the Russian-backed sites, "RT" and "Sputnik." "RT" is funded by the Russian state, and Sputnik is also another Russian-backed site. But also, sites like "Breitbart," "Western Journal," and "Epoch Times."
All of these sites traffic in narratives around the election that are promoting conspiracies around voter fraud, or the ineligibility of candidates to vote, or the fact that hostile powers may be interfering with the election, or that global elites are rigging the election in some way. So those are some of the sites that we think advertisers should have a choice as to whether or not they end up advertising against that sort of content.
And we provide, in our latest report, six sites that we have assessed in the US market as being the minimum risk of carrying that sort of electoral disinformation narrative and would strongly encourage advertisers to support those sorts of sites instead. And those are the sites that you might imagine, like "NPR," "The New York Times," "Reuters," "USA Today," the "Wall Street Journal," and "The Washington Post."
These sites are very unlikely to carry electoral disinformation at a time when voters are making up their mind and making their final decision. Some have already made their decision. It's extremely important that they know which sites to trust, and it's extremely important that advertisers know where they can place their advertising, and which sites are not going to disinform form voters.
BRIAN SOZZI: Clare, the companies doing it wrong, how much money are they bringing in from these ads?
CLARE MEDFORD: Well, it's very hard to say. Only the people, the ad tech companies in the middle placing the ads would know. But by our estimations, we reckon that about a million dollars a month is going to just the five sites that we've listed as being the ones that traffic most extensively. Most often, they write the most stories around these narratives. So at least a million dollars a month.
ALEXIS CHRISTOFORUS: Wow. So Clare, what can we, as consumers of news and of these ads, do to sort of have an alarm bell go off and say, wait a minute, this might not be legit?
CLARE MEDFORD: Well, I think there's a few things that individuals can do. One, check your sources. So check whether or not the story is carried in other news sites. And is it carried in some of the minimum-risk sites that we, at GDI, have identified in this report?
Secondly, have a bit of a critical eye as to whether or not the site might be trying to promote a particular agenda and whether they're perhaps doing it for money. So some sites are very hastily created, and they traffic in very elaborate narratives that are meant to trigger our emotions. And if the wording of the story is very polarizing, very divisive, very emotive, then perhaps one of the reasons that they're doing that is to attract eyeballs and, therefore, to attract ad dollars-- so a bit of critical thinking.