Sizing the Infodemic: NewsGuard Analysts Have Now Found More than 500 ‘News’ Sites Peddling COVID-19 Misinformation and Identified 50 Hoaxes Relating to the COVID-19 Vaccines
Readers urgently need ratings of source credibility to protect them from relying on these untrustworthy sources of information—and advertisers urgently need to do more to make sure their programmatic ads no longer fund life-threatening hoaxes
(September 8, 2021 — New York) NewsGuard announced today that its analysts have now identified more than 500 news and information websites that publish misinformation about COVID-19, including its vaccines and other treatments, as well as 50 specific hoaxes relating to the vaccines that are misleading families, often through life-threatening falsehoods. This “infodemic” of misinformation is often funded, unintentionally, by advertisers whose programmatic ads are placed on these misinformation sites and generate revenues for their activities.
“Misinformation has contributed to distrust in science and authoritative institutions over the last year and a half, making it more difficult and dangerous to fight COVID-19,” said Andy Pattison, Team Lead for Digital Channels, Department of Digital Health and Innovation at the World Health Organization. “NewsGuard’s tireless efforts to reveal sources of misinformation online have enabled WHO and the wider digital community to take real action and stop spreaders in their tracks.”
NewsGuard rates and provides Nutrition Labels for all the news and information sites that account for 95% of online engagement in the US, UK, Germany, France and Italy. Each site is rated according to nine basic, apolitical, criteria of journalistic practice, including whether the site regularly publishes false content.
Of the 6,730 domains that NewsGuard has rated, 519 have published COVID misinformation—meaning that more than seven percent of all the most popular news sites publish this harmful content. Of all the sites NewsGuard has rated Red for being generally unreliable, one in five has published COVID-19 misinformation.
Websites reporting false cures and making false claims about the dangers of vaccines often get many times the traffic of generally trustworthy sites.
For example, Children’s Health Defense, a website controlled by anti-vaccine advocate Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. garnered more engagement in the past 90 days than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and National Institutes for Health. ChildrensHealthDefense.org gets just 17.5 points out of 100 from NewsGuard, and readers are warned: “Proceed with caution: This website severely violates basic journalistic standards.”
This is the breakdown for the number of COVID-19 misinformation sites by country where the site is followed the most: US 339; UK 21; France 59; Germany 42; Italy 41; and Other 17.
NewsGuard previously issued a joint report with Comscore indicating that companies unintentionally spend $2.6 billion a year advertising on misinformation sites, including sites publishing false healthcare content. Earlier this year, NewsGuard also reported that more than 4,000 top brands funded websites promoting COVID-19 misinformation, including vaccine makers, hospitals and even the Centers for Disease Control. Earlier this year, NewsGuard launched a program for advertisers seeking to ensure their brand safety by no longer supporting these sites: The NewsGuard Responsible Advertising for News segments exclude inappropriate sites from advertising while adding thousands of high-quality, trustworthy sites for advertisers’ inclusion lists, resulting in brand safe and more efficient programmatic advertising campaigns.
In addition, NewsGuard analysts have identified the 50 top COVID-19 myths about the vaccines being spread online, including through social media. Among the myths:
- The mRNA vaccines alter people’s DNA
- The COVID vaccine causes infertility in 97% of women and men
- Vaccines increase the number of new variants of the virus
- Airlines, particularly in Spain and Russia, have advised people who have received the vaccine to avoid flying because of a risk of developing blood clots.
- COVID-19 vaccines contain luciferase, a substance named after the fallen angel Lucifer.
These COVID-19 vaccine hoaxes are included in NewsGuard’s Misinformation Fingerprints product, which is a catalog of all the top current hoaxes on the internet. These fingerprints include the false claim, its debunk, search terms and social-media tags designed to be used as seeds for artificial intelligence tools. This results in finding all examples of particular hoaxes anywhere on the internet, discovering the provenance of each hoax and understanding which social media accounts spread the hoaxes so that steps can be taken to mitigate the harm. The Pentagon’s Cyber Command, the State Department’s Global Engagement Center and the Giphy service for social media are among the entities that have used this product.
“It’s shocking that more than 18 months into the COVID-19 pandemic that we continue to add new websites publishing falsehoods relating to the virus,” said Steven Brill, co-CEO of NewsGuard. “We are grateful for companies such as Microsoft and institutions, such as public libraries and schools, for making NewsGuard ratings and labels available to their customers, students and patrons. We hope digital platforms such as social media companies will likewise give their users the option to get ratings such as NewsGuard’s middleware solution in their newsfeeds so that they too will know who is feeding them the news.”
“One of the unsolved mysteries of the COVID-19 infodemic is how there could be so much misinformation being spread so widely, contributing to vaccine hesitancy and costing lives,” said Gordon Crovitz, co-CEO of NewsGuard. “NewsGuard has determined that programmatic advertising is unintentionally funding hundreds of websites publishing falsehoods about the virus and its vaccines. Advertisers have no idea that their ads are ending up on these websites. Many advertisers tell us they thought their traditional brand-safety providers offered this protection, but they don’t; they protect against ads on pornography sites through artificial intelligence, but it takes trained analysts using fully disclosed criteria to tell the difference between generally trustworthy sites and the increasing number of sites profiting by peddling life-threatening hoaxes to families around the world.”
Researchers, platforms, governmental bodies, and health institutions interested in licensing NewsGuard ratings and Nutrition Labels can contact NewsGuard for licensing information.
Advertisers seeking to gain access to NewsGuard’s Responsible Advertising for News segments that exclude inappropriate sites from advertising and add thousands of high-quality, trustworthy sites for inclusion lists can contact NewsGuard for licensing information.
Platforms, researchers, government agencies, and others interested in licensing the Misinformation Fingerprints can contact NewsGuard for more details.
Launched in March 2018 by media entrepreneur and award-winning journalist Steven Brill and former Wall Street Journal publisher Gordon Crovitz, NewsGuard provides credibility ratings and detailed “Nutrition Labels” for thousands of news and information websites. NewsGuard rates all the news and information websites that account for 95% of online engagement across the U.S., U.K., Germany, France, and Italy. NewsGuard products include NewsGuard, HealthGuard, and BrandGuard, which helps marketers concerned about their brand safety, and the Misinformation Fingerprints catalog of top hoaxes.
Consumers can access NewsGuard’s ratings through NewsGuard’s browser extension on all major browsers and through mobile apps for iOS and Android. The extension is available for free on Microsoft’s Edge browser through a license agreement with Microsoft, and hundreds of public libraries globally receive free access to use NewsGuard’s browser extension on their public-access computers to give their patrons more context for the news they encounter online. For more information, including to download the browser extension and review the ratings process, visit newsguardtech.com.
- Steven Brill, Co-CEO, email@example.com, +1 212-332-6301
- Gordon Crovitz, Co-CEO, firstname.lastname@example.org, +1 212-332-6407