Study: Google and Amazon Are Inadvertently Funding COVID-19 Misinformation Sites

Conspiracy-ridden websites have possibly raked in over $20 million in ad revenue in 2020

woman wearing a mask using a laptop computer
How do COVID conspiracy sites make money? Apparently with help from big tech.
filadendron / Getty Images
By Kirk Miller / July 9, 2020 12:18 pm

Amazon, Google and other major tech companies have funneled over $20 million to coronavirus conspiracy sites, according to a report by the U.K. research group Global Disinformation Index.

GDI analyzed ads running through various digital advertising platforms for the first six months of this year, though they excluded social media and online video services. The ads ran on 480 English-language websites “identified as publishers of virus misinformation,” as reported by Bloomberg.

One cited example: On May 19, a L’Oreal product was promoted on Americanthinker.com next to an article titled “Is Big Pharma Suppressing Hydroxychloroquine?”

American Thinker
A screenshot of ad placements on an identified misinformation site
GDI

According to GDI, ads placed on these misinformation sites included brand names like Amazon Prime, eBay, Microsoft, Nissan, T-Mobile and Walgreens (see here for full list).

As the research group suggests:

Based on our findings, ads for big brands have been found funding stories that tout debunked and dangerous cures, undercut government lock-down measures, equate track-and-trace apps with state surveillance, and traffic in theories that the Chinese government and the global elite should be blamed for the virus’ spread.

A Google spokesperson contested the study, noting, “Google has strict publisher policies designed to prevent harmful, dangerous and fraudulent content from monetizing. We also continue to take an aggressive approach to COVID-19 content that makes harmful medical claims contradicting the guidance of global health authorities.” Five of 10 highlighted ad placements from the study had been “demonetized” by Google, meaning no one could make money from the ads.

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