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The internet needs truth and transparency now more than ever. This is a guest post from our friends at the Mozilla Foundation, who have been leading the way for a long time.

In 2020, it seems like the (bad) news is often coming so thick and fast, it’s challenging to know what, if anything, your organization can do to quickly respond and still be effective in your mission. 

Not least of the challenges is the constant stream of misinformation. Here’s how your organization can actively avoid falling into the most common misinformation traps. 

One: Are we unintentionally funding hate speech and misinformation?!

Online advertising is one of the best ways for nonprofits to engage supporters and further activism and fundraising. But one thing that the #StopHateForProfit campaign highlighted was that many brands, including nonprofits, had their content shown alongside hate speech or misinformation on social media platforms, particularly Facebook. (M+R had this to say on how you’re able to support the #StopHateForProfit campaign). At least $235 million in revenue is generated annually from ads running on extremist and disinformation websites, fueled in part by well-known companies across all sectors, according to The Global Disinformation Index.

Key things to know:

“Regular” online advertising could also be funding misinformation

Nandini Jammi, co-founder of Check My Ads, says many organizations don’t realize that their ads are often showing up on sites known to spread misinformation—and sometimes even appear on white supremacist sites. Harriet Kingaby of the Conscious Advertising Network and Mozilla fellow at Consumers International agrees and adds that as much as 70% of ad spend can end up going to middlemen…or disappearing entirely. 

You can request a report into where your ad spend is going—and explore alternatives

If you’re using an agency, ask them for a site placement report into where your online ads are appearing. If they hesitate, or outright refuse to show you, that’s a major red flag. Agencies should be 100% transparent with you about how they’re spending your money. As for alternative placement sources, The Conscious Advertising Network recommends:

  • Brand Advance, who place ads with diverse media to ensure it is funded.
  • Good Loop, who offer ‘opt in’ ad formats which also make donations to charity.
  • Media Bounty, who are a creative social media agency with a conscience.

Set red lines before you start advertising

Have a clear idea what your nonprofit’s boundaries are. While many platforms including Facebook and Google give brand safety settings that allow you to opt out of your advertising appearing alongside certain kinds of content, these platforms can’t offer a truly 100% brand safe environment. Some nonprofits (like Mozilla) outright quit Facebook after the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Color of Change and Amnesty International continue to use Facebook, in spite of highlighting the many issues with the platform, because they say the benefits of being able to reach and mobilize their supporters, for them, outweigh the downside of supporting a platform that amplifies hate speech and disinformation.

Document the types of content and misinformation you’re willing to accept before you start advertising in order to make the decision considerably easier. 

Two: Don’t be an unwilling vector for misinformation

Misinformation comes from across the political spectrum. Part of the reason misinformation is so effective is that it doesn’t always *look* like misinformation, and instead can reinforce you and your organization’s views. 

The BBC has seven top tips on how to stop accidentally sharing misinformation, but their biggest two tips: stop and check the source (watch out for “a friend’s coworker said”-type sources!), and if in any doubt, don’t share. 

Three: Don’t react constantly  

It’s easy to find yourself in a position where you’re constantly correcting the record and fact-checking bogus statements, especially on issues central to your nonprofit’s mission. 

Be aware that fact-checking, especially fact-checking a politician, can give their misinformation reach and visibility. Use your discretion on when to engage. If you do, rather than lengthy statements or even full campaigns responding to this type of news, use social media to bluntly and quickly correct that misinformation before the news cycle moves on.

Four: Focus on your core audiences and push your key messages

Continue to be proactive about pushing your core messages: build a compelling story and stay laser-focused on your target audiences. Your core audience should be the one that’s easiest to target based on their previous interactions with you (e.g. people on your email list, or people who visit your website—not people you find through potentially sketchy 3rd party vendors). 

Misinformation thrives in an information vacuum. If you’re seeing misinformation about the issues dearest to your nonprofit, the best way to counter those is by acting as a credible, expert source. Your supporters are already supporting you because they believe in you. 

Even if you’re not (yet) seeing misinformation about issues you’re working on, continue to provide well-researched information wrapped in compelling human stories. This information will cut through in the event misinformation does start to appear. 


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