How businesses can defund fake news by boycotting ad placements

Published by on February 8, 2017 in Information Security

fake news
Businesses might be advertising on fake news sites without even realizing it. To help stop the spread of fake news sites and defund their operations, Comparitech is encouraging businesses that advertise online to blacklist fake news and hate speech sites from displaying their advertisements.

Businesses that advertise online most likely do so through large “bidding platforms” like Google AdWords and other ad networks. These services can automatically match advertisers with the best websites and placements at a given budget to reach a target audience.

This technology certainly makes online advertising much more convenient, but many businesses might not realize where their advertisements actually end up. A business could unknowingly place its advertisement on a fake news or hate speech site. Not only does this help to fund the fake news site, it could damage the reputation of the businesses.

We don’t need to tell you the damage that fake news has caused and is still causing. While some of these might be funded by foreign entities (coughputincough), our hope is that cutting them off from reputable advertisers will put a dent in their operations.

Fortunately, businesses need not scrap their ad networks and campaigns altogether to take action. Most bidding platforms, including Google AdWords, allow advertisers to add specific websites to a blacklist where they don’t want their ads to appear.

Google AdWords is the most popular platform for advertising, so we’ll show you how to blacklist sites step by step here.

How to blacklist fake news sites on Google AdWords

This tutorial will guide you through the blacklisting process to prevent your ads from appearing on fake news and hate speech sites on Google AdWords. Other advertising platforms should have similar capabilities.

  1. Log into your AdWords account. While under the default Campaigns tab, click Shared library in the left sidebaradwords fake site exclusion 1
  2. Under Shared library in the left sidebar, click Campaign placement exclusionsadwords fake site exclusion 2
  3. Click the red + List buttonadwords fake site exclusion 3
  4. Create a name for your list. Call it whatever you want. Enter the list of domains you wish to exclude (see our recommended shortlist below) in the Placements field. Each domain must have its own line. No spaces or commas. Click Saveadwords fake site exclusion 4
  5. Your list should now appear on the Campaign placement exclusions page. Check the box next to it and click Apply to campaignsadwords fake site exclusion 5
  6. Click all of the ad campaigns you wish to apply the blacklist to (all of them). They will appear on the right under Selected campaigns. Click Save
  7. That’s it! You should see a notification at the top of the page that says “Your updates have been saved.”
  8. If you want to update your list to add or remove sites, just click the list name on the Campaign placement exclusions page and click the red + Add button

Money well spent

Removing ads from fake news sites not only serves to stem the flow of money to fake news sites, it can also help businesses better allocate their advertising budgets. Research shows that advertisements on fake news sites aren’t worth the money.

Last year, online marketing company WordStream analyzed advertisements on Breitbart, the undisputed king of inflammatory right-wing fake news and hate speech, and found them to consistently underperform:

In reviewing data from November 2016, WordStream managed a total of 3,098 accounts whose ads had appeared on Breitbart. Nearly all those advertisers didn’t necessarily intend to advertise on the domain; only 7 accounts of those 3,098 had targeted the domain as a managed placement in their campaigns. During November, these accounts displayed over 3 million impressions on the site and their overall ad performance on the domain was awful! Ads on have surprisingly low click-through rates, poor conversion rates, and cost far too much per click, compared to its peers on the Google Display Network.

What are corporations doing about this?

Last year, several major brands pulled their advertisements from Breitbart and other sites containing fake news and hate speech. Kellog, Hulu, Warby Parker, and others pulled their advertisements from the site. Fans of the site organized a boycott of Kellog in response, but the movement was shortlived.

To quell the rise of fake news Google and Facebook have both taken a stand against fake news. Google recently banned 200 publishers from its AdSense network for spreading misinformation, while Facebook has adjusted its algorithms to give fake news stories less prominence in users’ feeds. AppNexus, a major advertising technology provider, removed Breitbart from using its ad-serving tools on its website for publishing hate speech.

These are steps in the right direction, but we shouldn’t depend on Google and other corporations to stamp out fake news on our behalf. Advertising is Google’s primary source of revenue, after all. Blacklisting websites yourself is a proactive way to make a tangible difference.

Smaller advertisers probably need not worry about backlash and boycotts from readers of fake news sites. Unless you are a major corporation, removing your ads from a website will most likely go unnoticed unless you publicize your actions (which we encourage you to do!).

To be clear, we weren’t the first group to have this idea. Sleeping Giants, for example, has actively pressured advertisers to remove their ads from Breitbart for some time. They maintain a list of advertisers who have confirmed that they blocked Breitbart from their media plans. While Sleeping Giants primarily focuses on Breitbart, if you want to be added to the list, contact them them on Twitter or Facebook.

List of fake news websites

We’ve made a shortlist (okay, it’s a rather long list) of fake news sites lifted from a document published by Melissa Zimdars, an assistant professor of communication at Merrimack College in Massachusetts, in 2016. Zimdars tagged more than 900 sites with up to three of the following categories: fake news, satire, extreme bias, conspiracy theory, rumor mill, state news, junk science, hate news, clickbait, unreliable, political, credible, and unknown. Our shortlist contains the websites tagged with fake news, hate news, and conspiracy theory, but you can consider adding more from the full list.

Just copy and paste this into the AdWords blacklist. You’re free to add and remove sites as you please, of course.

It is not our intention to lean left or right, as fake news is a problem on both sides of the aisle. Our aim is to make it as easy as possible for businesses to prevent their ads from ending up in the wrong place. If you take issue with this list, let us know in the comments.

Note that many of these sites use domains and websites that mimic real news sources, but are in fact intended to deceive readers. These include many sites with an extension added to the URL, such as

Bear in mind that fake news websites pop up all the time. We recommend you regularly update the list to stay one step ahead of the fake news fraudsters. If you know of a more up-to-date list (we’re not sure if Professor Zimdars still maintains this one), let us know in the comments.

One thought on “How businesses can defund fake news by boycotting ad placements

  • While I appreciate your desire to stop fake news; your list contradicts the list Zimdars list. You have sites on your “Fake News” list that are not listed as fake new by Zimdars. Maybe it’s been updated since you made this list, just wanted you to be aware of it since you wouldn’t want to spread fake news yourself.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *