Websites spreading disinformation and manipulative content require funding to continue their operation. For the Czech websites known for spreading disinformation, one of the main sources of income is advertising revenue. According to earlier research by the Prague Security Studies Institute (PSSI), the estimate is that these websites can earn up to 190,000 CZK per month by renting advertising space. Accordingly, spreading of disinformation or extremist content in the Czech online space represents a relatively profitable business opportunity.
Many private businesses unintentionally support websites known for spreading disinformation with their ads through automated purchase of online advertising space without the companies' knowledge or awareness of how this can affect the perception of their brand. This means their advertisement appears in a negative context which, in turn, jeopardizes the brand’s reputation. The advertisement revenue also helps such media to continue their operation and “trade in fear” based on monetization of disinformation, conspiracy theories, and hate speech.
This is why PSSI, in cooperation with the initiatives NELEŽ (GET REAL) and Fair Advertising, has directly engaged the private sector through seminars on disinformation and brand safety, co-organized with chambers of commerce and embassies. The goal of the seminars is to educate the private sector and search for tools that would help prevent disinformation from damaging their brand, with the overarching effort to make non-advertising on such websites an ethical standard of business. The real-life impact of private companies countering disinformation was demonstrated in the Czech Republic in 2021, when the disinformation outlet EUportál stopped its activities and provided the decreasing advertising revenue as one of the main reasons for this step.
Based on our experience, most brand representatives are at least vaguely aware of the issue of advertising on disinformation websites. While many consider it a major issue for their brand which needs to be addressed, some representatives question whether the companies actually have power over where their advertising appears. That is why the NELEŽ initiative prepared a guide on how advertisers can block their ads from appearing on problematic websites via the most commonly used advertising systems. There is also the possibility to join a community of responsible advertisers, ad creators, managers of media space and tech companies in the communications industry.