At a time when an endless amount of information is accessible with the click of a mouse, how can the average person learn to separate fact from fiction? And what does this mean for our democracy?

[NOTE: Due to copyrights, the full film has been removed on November 15.]

Nandini Jammi, activist and co-founder of Check My Ads, tells us how we can reach true information in an increasingly digital world. 

Disinformation and misinformation have become so common in media today and according to Jammi, we can confidently point to the ad tech industry for the proliferation of disinformation. She says, “Ad tech companies not only make it easy for disinformation outlets to earn advertising revenues, but they also block ads on disinformation at lower rates than legitimate news media because they tend to receive higher engagement. Of course, news media can’t compete in such a perverse system — particularly when they are forced to compete with disinformation outlets that push out fake stories all day long. The result is that disinformation outlets are able to flood the media with fake stories, and this ‘business’ is more profitable than running a news media outlet."

Fake news has become more common with the increased use of social media. However, Jammi says fake news isn’t new and neither are conspiracy theorists and disinformation peddlers. She explains that the difference today is that these individuals and groups have been given the power to amplify their message globally by social media platforms and build profitable businesses via their growing audiences. They’re successful not just because of social media, but because they have access to e-commerce platforms where they can sell merchandise and books, payment platforms where they can collect donations, and email marketing software that they can use to continue building audience loyalty.

So how can an average person differentiate between facts and fake information? Jammi says it can be difficult, even for disinformation experts: “A lot of fake information tends to be shared and forwarded on social media by friends and family, which makes you want to believe it. I would recommend consulting multiple sources to confirm a story. I also recommend being suspicious of one-sided information — particularly stories that demonize a person or group. Fake stories tend to follow this pattern in order to drum up anger and engagement, while genuine news sources generally include multiple perspectives and sources in a story.”

“Fake news” has also become a political tool used to manipulate people. Jammi explains that spreading disinformation (or fake news) is a political tactic used by both domestic and foreign actors to influence democratic elections. They have been able to run coordinated disinformation operations without consequences, often with the help of ad tech companies. Educating advertisers on how their ad budgets are being spent irresponsibly by their ad tech vendors will be a critical part of our strategy in fighting back.

Jammi adds, “We believe that given the choice, advertisers will do the right thing and block disinformation from their ad buys. However, it’s impossible for each and every individual advertiser to review thousands of websites on their own. It’s the ad tech industry’s responsibility to carefully review and monitor the publishers they bring into the advertising ecosystem — but it looks like they don’t want to.”

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