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The Story Behind Fake News Sites

April 17, 2017

Wayne Gattinella
CEO and President

Hyperbolic and fake news sites not only court millions of viewers, but they are also shared voraciously on social media sites, profiting from disinformation. eMarketer’s Sean Creamer spoke with Wayne Gattinella, CEO and president of DoubleVerify, a provider of viewability and brand safety authentication tools, about how brands feel about the plethora of this content and the actions they take to disassociate themselves from it.

eMarketer: How do advertisers view brand safety?

Wayne Gattinella: Brand safety concerns relate to advertisers not fully understanding the context of a site’s content until it’s too late. You can have a perfectly appropriate, ethical news site that an advertiser would want to be spending on any day of the week. However, on a particular day, there might be a story that they don’t want their ad to appear next to—not because the site is inappropriate, but because the story is inappropriate.

eMarketer: How do you apply brand safety to user-generated video content?

Gattinella: It’s breaking down the context of a particular user-generated video, classifying it right at the get-go and determining on a real-time basis whether it’s appropriate or inappropriate.

“Brand safety for video means operating the technology on scale and also at a granular enough level that you’re able to flag and catch questionable content before an ad starts to run.”

Video is more complex than the display environment. User-generated content presents its own complexities, because it is real-time content created in huge scale on YouTube. Brand safety for video means operating the technology on scale and also at a granular enough level that you’re able to flag and catch questionable content before an ad starts to run.

eMarketer: How often is DoubleVerify blocking ads from appearing on content that is inflammatory or content not aligned with a brand?

Gattinella: In the month of March, there were 85 million instances where we blocked ads from appearing. Since the election period of 2016, there’s been a significant amount of content produced with highly charged ideas that continues to gain momentum.

eMarketer: What is driving the growth of this content?

Gattinella: A lot of these sites that live on unsubstantiated news stories generate traffic through links that oftentimes are shared person-to-person across various forms of social media. Those links get shared without people really understanding what they’re clicking on or what they’re even looking at. The site gains legitimacy just because the person referred it, not because of the content itself.

eMarketer: Social media acts as a catalyst for growth?

Gattinella: The advent of social media has enabled stories to generate enormous volume in very short periods of time. Prior to the advent of social media, there was word-of-mouth or you used a search engine to locate content. The substantiated search engines were able to filter the appropriate from the inappropriate stories to begin with.

But now with social media, people can literally hand off something that they were sent in a matter of a click—in a day it can compound it to significant amounts of content.

“The site gains legitimacy just because the person referred it, not because of the content itself.”

eMarketer: How are these inflammatory sites affecting brand advertisers?

Gattinella: Last year, advertisers came to DoubleVerify asking about the sites where their ads were appearing. The advertisers thought the content was inappropriate because the types of stories weren’t creditable. Looking deeper into the nature of these sites, we saw two things.

One, the volume of traffic at these sites was increasing rapidly. Two, we determined that the news carried on these kinds of sites for the most part wasn’t credible. They were unsubstantiated stories, very sensational type of headlines, content that would spin and really didn’t support the headline itself, oftentimes without an author, undated, no originating city. The site itself, while purporting to be a full news site with many different tabs, was fairly hollow as a frame and in fact was only carrying a few very highly charged stories.

eMarketer: If these sites existed purely for the sensationalism, what was their purpose?

Gattinella: It became clear that these sites were built to generate a lot of traffic. Traffic generates advertising, advertising generates dollars, and it became apparent that these sites were existing for one purpose only: to generate traffic to generate ad revenue.

These sites were in the hundreds midyear last year and now are in the tens of thousands. They are programming fast and furious headlines that get lots of fast traction and generate immense traffic, but without much basis for the underlying content.

eMarketer: What were brand responses to their ad content appearing on these sites?

Gattinella: The majority of brand advertisers represented by DoubleVerify identified these types of inflammatory news or even fake news sites as sites that they don’t want to appear on. The credibility of the sites is questionable and even though they may be generating traffic, [their] history will tell you that the quality of that traffic is very low and hence even the opportunity to respond to their ads is probably low as well.

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