The South African National Editor's Forum (Sanef) and Media Monitoring Africa (MMA) have called on the South African media industry, advertisers and marketers to collectively combat fake news, or disinformation.
Last week, a three-month News24 investigation into the creators, distributors and funders of disinformation was launched. The investigation also identified several big-name brands advertising on fake news websites. In response to questions sent to these companies, most registered their shock and surprise at their adverts appearing on the site. Their responses placed the blame on tech-giant Google’s Adsense platform.
MMA director William Bird took a dim view of these brands found advertising on disinformation websites, and called for them to be more proactive in their approach to brand safety.
"Two things stand out for MMA in their responses. The first is that their response is predictable, to the extent that, even if they knew their brands were appearing on those kinds of sites, they are unlikely to want to publicly acknowledge that.
"The second issue that stands out is that most seem to be reactive rather than proactive in their response and that, while they see the potential negative consequence of appearing on dodgy sites, they are not seeing the real benefit of ensuring their brands appear on credible news sites. So we have to question, not just the use of programmatic [advertising] for decisions to advertise, but also how the system and practice currently encourages or fails to ensure brand safety."
'A step in the right direction'
Sanef's Chris Louw welcomed the investigation.
"This initiative by News24 is a step in the right direction. For far too long, fake news funding, and its origins, have gone unnoticed. Often the question of 'who funds fake news' has been left unanswered, leading many people to believe that fake news is either not being funded locally, or is being funded by unknown organisations."
"Unfortunately, the reality illustrates that most brands simply have no idea when and where their advertising is being served to users, which has emboldened fake news producers by making their false narratives profitable. Exposing the funders of fake news in the public domain must be seen as the start of a concerted effort to ensure the long-term sustainability of credible media in South Africa. Sanef, in conjunction with MMA, is at the forefront of fighting fake news, its origins and most certainly the funding that enables this kind of subversive behaviour."
Louw reiterated that the media, marketing agencies and brands needed to work together to find a sustainable solution.
"The South African media industry, advertisers and marketers, must collectively combat fake news by providing viable, long-term solutions which benefit the industry and its practitioners. There are many international models which can be used as a foundation for our own media sustainability initiatives," Sanef told News24.
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