June 21, 2022

Stopping the Inadvertent Spread of Mis/Disinformation Through Digital Advertising Technology

Holland & Knight Alert
Thomas W. Brooke | Allia Howard

The rise of technologies such as advertising technology (AdTech), especially search engine optimization (SEO), greatly benefits retailers and service providers in the virtual sphere. Just as an eye-catching billboard near a key intersection or an ad during prime-time TV and other forms of advertising were keys to success in years past, today's marketers have learned to put their ads on popular social media sites, popular online games and other web vehicles in order to engage more consumers. In today's cyber world, online advertisements and other forms of digital marketing create more brand impact and reach more consumers and audiences than traditional advertising practices.

The existence of data insights, algorithms, machine learning and other innovative mechanisms make targeting certain consumer groups easier. Programmatic online advertising involves purchasing digital campaigns for specific sets of demographic groups. These mechanisms utilize data insights and algorithms to deliver advertisements to the right user at the right time – and at the right price. The programs used by advertisers know the interests and desires of consumers and give them what they want, even though consumers don't realize that they want the product or service right away.

Unfortunately, the use of such programmatic online advertising contributes to the unintentional spread of mis/disinformation. In this process, reputable companies and brands do not choose – or even know – where their advertisements may appear or what content is adjacent to their ad. The mis/disinformation industry exploits this unawareness to spread and substantiate content, leading brands to inadvertently fund and contribute to the spread of mis/disinformation. This spread can create polarization among users and amplify deceptive information received.

Next Steps

The lack of knowledge while managing digital advertising campaigns through programmatic online advertising could expose companies to important advertising and intellectual property issues. The goodwill of brands can quickly suffer detrimental consequences to their reputation as a result of the inadvertent spread of mis/disinformation.

Brand safety technology companies are addressing and working to mitigate the spread of mis/disinformation. Their complex artificial intelligence (AI) driven discovery systems monitor harmful online content and help identify bad actors and untrustworthy information. Unmasking certain mis/disinformation threats in digital media will be crucial for not misleading consumers, having a more transparent digital ecosystem and protecting reputable brands.

Advertisers should take steps to protect their reputation by asking questions of the AdTech service providers to get a better understanding of where there ads will appear and what sort of content will be adjacent to these ads. Brand safety programs should be implemented to avoid tarnishment of goodwill through inadvertent ad placement.

For more information and guidance on protecting your advertisements and ad placement, contact the authors.

Information contained in this alert is for the general education and knowledge of our readers. It is not designed to be, and should not be used as, the sole source of information when analyzing and resolving a legal problem, and it should not be substituted for legal advice, which relies on a specific factual analysis. Moreover, the laws of each jurisdiction are different and are constantly changing. This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. If you have specific questions regarding a particular fact situation, we urge you to consult the authors of this publication, your Holland & Knight representative or other competent legal counsel.

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