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How publishers can help tackle online misinformation

Ben Erdos, November 22, 2022


Key Takeaways:

  • Collaboration is key to tackling online misinformation
  • Publishers need to leverage their close relationships with key audiences to boost media literacy
  • High-quality levels allow publishers to stand out against fake news
Facts matter
Photo by The Climate Reality Project on Unsplash


Over the last few years, the world has seen a significant growth in online misinformation, and many people will have been directly affected by it.  

While there has always been misinformation online, the explosion of “fake news” in recent years has spilled over into the real world and caused genuine public harm, with events such as the January 6th Capitol riots proving that ideas percolated online can have disastrous effects on civil society. 

While online platforms and public bodies such as the European Parliament and fact-checking organizations, such as Media Bias/Fact Check or the BBC’s Reality Check, have led the way in tackling misinformation, the truth is its effects filter throughout the entire online ecosystem. This has led to some high-profile cases of advertisers being caught off-guard, unknowingly funding sites run by climate change deniers, anti-vaccine groups, and extremists.

Publishers often believe that, as long as they uphold their own standards and produce quality journalism, they will stand apart from disreputable publishers and won’t be affected. But the truth is that the continuing spread of false, or misleading information online, can directly impact your bottom line — an estimated $2.6 billion of ad spend is wasted on fake news publishers a year. Adjacent to this, audiences are increasingly losing faith in publishers of all kinds, with 55% of US consumers saying they had little to no trust in the news media.

Clearly, publishers need to take a more active role in tackling online misinformation. These are the steps we believe every publisher should be taking in order to stop the spread.

Maintain high standards

We’ve previously spoken about the importance of maintaining high levels of quality for publishers. If you are to stand apart from less reputable sites, you need to do more to publish quality content — everything on your site needs to be of the highest standard.

Don’t be afraid to go back to basics — ensure you are staying within Google’s guidelines (both for content and site experience), review editorial policy, and create a seamless onsite experience for your audience. This needs to be an ongoing process; quality is not a one-time deal. 

One benchmark you can use to measure the quality of your site is Google’s Core Web Vitals (CWV). With its metrics on content loading speed, interactivity, and visual stability, optimizing for CWV is an effective way to ensure a high level of site performance is maintained.

Keep your audience close…

With the amount of misinformation online, it’s no wonder audiences are distrustful. Publishers need to be part of a wider effort to increase media literacy and trust globally, and in order to do this, you need to foster a closer relationship with your audience.

Opening channels of conversation, via social media or mailers, is a good starting point. First-party data, collected with informed consent from your audience, can provide the rich insights needed to strengthen those core relationships.

This not only ensures content can be better tailored to your audience, but the increased trust allows you to better inform and educate, increasing media literacy within your audience, and therefore the wider ecosystem.

Another important factor is transparency in your editorial process, content partnerships, and teams. For example, having meaningful bylines on articles and well-rounded author pages will provide a foundation for trust, and can help strengthen this relationship.

…And your industry partners closer

Fighting online misinformation is not a simple task, and is one the entire industry needs to unite behind. As a publisher, the partnerships you make can be powerful — you need to ensure that those you work with are similarly committed to tackling online misinformation. Collaboration within the industry is critical for ensuring that ad spend doesn’t fund illegitimate publishers. 

If you would like to know more, feel free to get in touch.