Brand Danger: NewsGuard Finds 349 Top Global Brands Funding Misinformation About the Hamas-Israel Conflict with Programmatic Ads

Study suggests brand-safety protections from legacy ‘ad verification’ providers fail to protect brands from ad placements on Israel-Hamas misinformation; NewsGuard data on websites spreading false claims about the Israel-Hamas war added to its brand-safety tools

(Nov. 29, 2023—New York) Hundreds of top global brands are inadvertently funding misinformation about the Israel-Hamas conflict through their programmatic advertisements, a first-of-its-kind analysis by NewsGuard misinformation specialists has found.

The study, conducted over the period from October 7 through November 15, captured 349 top brands advertising on Israel-Hamas misinformation. The examples of brands advertising on misinformation were captured via a manual human sampling method in which NewsGuard analysts visited articles conveying misinformation about the war and observed and captured data about ads that appeared, using a variety of browsers, locations, and user identities. The NewsGuard analysts did not take any intentional steps to trigger the ads. They simply visited the articles and captured the experience of an average user.

For example, the study found numerous top brands—such as Progressive Insurance, Macy’s, Zoom, Hulu, and the AARP—advertising adjacent to an article claiming that the Hamas attacks on Israel were “a deceptive false flag operation … orchestrated by Israel’s Deep State.”. In another instance, top brands such as Wayfair, Groupon, Amtrak and Radisson advertised on an article claiming Yemen had “declared war on Israel.”

This study used a human sampling method, demonstrating that the presence of ads from top brands on misinformation sites represents a typical user experience, not a limited exception. The instances of advertising were discovered during visits to a sampling of the 203 websites that NewsGuard has identified publishing misinformation about the Israel-Hamas war.

Among these websites: vtforeignpolicy.com (22.5/100 trust score) has spread false claims including that the Hamas attack on Israel was an inside job or “false flag” operation; globalvillagespace.com, an AI-generated site which created a conspiracy theory about the Israeli Prime Minister; and voiceofeurope.com (29.5/100 trust score) which falsely reported that Yemen had declared war on Israel.

“Brands often respond to reports based on broad sets of programmatic data by saying that the instances of ad placements were exceptions that slipped through due to ad fraud or errors, rather than the norm,” said NewsGuard General Manager Matt Skibinski. “In this case, we used a human sampling method to ensure that we could capture the experience of an average user visiting Israel-Hamas misinformation—and sure enough, our analysts found hundreds of top brands advertising adjacent to false narratives and conspiracy theories about the conflict.”

Consumer Survey Finds Ad Placements on Israel-Hamas Misinformation Present Serious Risk to Brands

In order to determine how much risk such ad placements present to brands, NewsGuard commissioned a survey from YouGov aiming to measure consumer sentiment about ad placements on Israel-Hamas misinformation. The survey, conducted last month, found that 53% of Americans would think more negatively of a brand that placed ads on sites spreading misinformation about the Israel-Hamas War.

Past reports by NewsGuard based on programmatic data from Comscore and Moat Pro found that more than 4,000 brands advertised on COVID-19 misinformation during the height of the pandemic, and more than 1,600 brands funded “stop the steal” election misinformation during the period surrounding U.S. election day in 2020. A Comscore and NewsGuard report estimates there is $2.6 billion in programmatic spending on misinformation each year.

The research suggests that protections currently in place from legacy brand safety companies such as DoubleVerify and IAS are not adequately protecting brands from ad placements on misinformation, especially in the case of high-risk flashpoint events such as a sudden military conflict or disputed election—all at the risk of undermining consumers’ trust.

“Relying on AI-based solutions that don’t incorporate journalistic expertise or analysis has continued to result in brands inadvertently funding the most significant misinformation on potentially harmful topics such as election integrity, armed conflict, and health and medicine,” said NewsGuard Co-CEO Steven Brill. “We hope this research opens the industry’s eyes to the scope of this problem.”

Israel-Hamas War Misinformation Flag Added to NewsGuard Brand-Safety Data

In response to its findings, NewsGuard has added an Israel-Hamas Misinformation flag to its media credibility dataset, which is used by brands, agencies, and ad-tech companies to aid in decisions about where to place advertisements on credible media. Brands using NewsGuard’s data can determine their risk tolerance for advertising on news—such as buying on inclusion list segments that target only highly credible media or avoiding risky sources based on specific score ranges, criteria, content types, or flags in NewsGuard’s data. To learn more about NewsGuard’s solutions for advertisers, click here.

Brands, agencies, and ad-tech companies interested in learning more about the research and gaining access to the dataset of Israel-Hamas misinformation content may contact NewsGuard here.

Consumer Survey Details and Methodology:

NewsGuard commissioned an October 2023 study with YouGov that polled a nationally representative sample of 1,147 Americans. The survey included the question:

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 1147 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 19th – 21st October 2023. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all US adults (aged 18+).


About NewsGuard 

Founded by media entrepreneur and award-winning journalist Steven Brill and former Wall Street Journal publisher Gordon Crovitz, NewsGuard provides transparent tools to counter misinformation for readers, brands, and democracies. Since launching in 2018, its global staff of trained journalists and information specialists has collected, updated, and deployed more than 6.9 million data points on more than 35,000 news and information sources, and catalogued and tracked all of the top false narratives spreading online.

NewsGuard’s analysts, powered by multiple AI tools, operate the trust industry’s largest and most accountable dataset on news. These data are deployed to fine-tune and provide guardrails for generative AI models, enable brands to advertise on quality news sites and avoid propaganda or hoax sites, provide media literacy guidance for individuals, and support democratic governments in countering hostile disinformation operations targeting their citizens.

Among other indicators of the scale of its operations is that NewsGuard’s apolitical and transparent criteria have been applied by its analysts to rate news sources accounting for 95% of online engagement with news across nine countries.