Stopping Fox New’s War on Reality

June 10, 2022


A nonprofit aiming to defund disinformation online that has taken money out of the pockets of several prominent far-right websites now has its sights set on its most formidable target yet: Fox News.

The group, Check My Ads, is hoping the success it has had in stripping advertising dollars from right-wing provocateurs including Steve Bannon, Glenn Beck and Dan Bongino will give it momentum as it attempts to confront a powerful media empire.

On Thursday, the outfit announced a new campaign directed at Fox’s website and its popular YouTube channel calling on the public to pressure online ad exchanges to stop doing business with Fox. It comes just as the House committee investigating the Capitol riots kicks off a series of hearings focused on violence that unfolded on Jan. 6. 

Former marketer Claire Atkin, who co-founded Check My Ads, argues that Fox “encouraged and supported” the attack on the Capitol. 

“Advertisers have said over and over again, ‘We don’t want to fund violence,’ so it’s shocking that Fox News is still receiving these ad dollars,” she said.

Mikel Ellcessor, the group’s chief operating officer, points to Fox News star Tucker Carlson’s sympathetic portrayal of the Capitol rioters and Carlson’s documentary series “Patriot Purge,” which promoted conspiracy theories about Jan. 6, falsely suggesting the violence was instigated by left-wing activists and calling the rioters “political prisoners.”

“What happens on Fox News television helps fund all of their digital properties,” he said. “You don’t get to claim that your hands are free and clean when you put a dollar into the Fox News operation.”

In a statement, Fox News dismissed the campaign as an effort at censorship, saying “There’s no greater threat to democracy than the effort to silence free speech.”

The network said it takes pride in “featuring more dissenting viewpoints on the major issues facing the country than our cable news competitors.” 

The push by the left-leaning activists comes amid growing calls from online advertising watchers for there to be more transparency and accountability in the complex industry that is digital advertising, an ever-growing segment of the economy in which an estimated $521 billion was spent last year.

Instead of calling for a consumer boycott, Check My Ads took a novel approach: apply public pressure on the hidden engines of the online advertising world: ad exchanges.

The exchanges, operated by companies like Google and Verizon but also a collection of smaller firms, are kind of the middlemen between a company trying to place an ad and a website. 

Often the exchanges have content rules that say they will not place ads on sites that promotes the overthrow of the government or glorifies violence.

When the group pointed out to exchanges that some sites they are doing business with violate their own rules, the exchanges acted. An exchange called Freewheel dropped Steve Bannon’s Real America’s Voice; another exchange called OpenX blocked Glenn Beck’s the Blaze; Google severed ties with Dan Bongino’s website. In all, the group estimates that the campaign has cut off millions of dollars from sites spreading disinformation.

“Ad exchanges have set a line, they set a standard for how their publishers should operate. We are just saying, ‘You need to uphold your own standard,'” said Atkin, who says her group is going after the “ATM of the disinformation economy.”

Websites peddling disinformation generate more than $2 billion in advertising revenue each year, according to an analysis by NewsGuard and ComScore.

Check My Ads says their goal is not just to take that money out of circulation, but to shed new light on just how the shadowy world of online advertising operates.

Some 90% of online ads are generated through an automated process, as opposed to being directly placed by a company.

Industry insiders call this system “programmatic advertising,” which basically means it is automated by computer software, according to Joshua Lowcock, an executive at the marketing and media agency UM.

“It’s like a stock exchange,” Lowcock said. “When you visit a website, there are multiple advertisers bidding on you in a real-time auction.”

How it works: Exchanges strike deals with publishers and put together massive lists of websites on which it can place advertising. The exchanges also hammer out contracts with companies hoping to reach a desired audience. Every time someone visits a site, in the matter of a millisecond, there are competing bids for your attention taking place on an ad exchange and the winner serves up an ad to you.

Problems arise, however, when a company’s ad appears in surprising places, which is not uncommon.

“You may be unaware of where your messages are showing up and what content your brand is living next to,” said Jon Klein, the former president of CNN who now works in digital media. “It’s the nightmare of most responsible marketers.”

Exchanges also tend to have content guidelines. Google, which operates the largest ad exchange, has rules that state it does not place ads on sites that make claims that are “demonstrably false,” or could “undermine participation or trust in an electoral or democratic process.”

Lowcock said an exchange’s inventory of websites is so vast and always growing that enforcing its rules is sometimes impossible.

“Often what we find is that when an exchange signs up a publisher, it adheres to the exchange’s own monetization policy, but we often find that they don’t,” he said.

Ellcessor of Check My Ads argues that if exchanges were following their own guidelines, they would ban Fox News’ online empire.


12 Responses to “Stopping Fox New’s War on Reality”

  1. rhymeswithgoalie Says:

    Tucker Carlson’s show ran without ads against the opening night of the January 2021 attempted coup hearings. It was cited as a deliberate decision to reflect the seriousness with which Fox News took it.

    Rather than showing the incriminating video aired in the hearing, Fox just showed reaction shots among the hearing audience. I wonder if this might backfire, and pique viewers’ curiosity about the coup video itself, such that they’d go to another site to view it.

    • jimbills Says:

      Fox News exists by/for confirmation bias. It’s why I believe nothing will really come from the hearings. It was obvious to me that Trump was the reason for the coup attempt (and it was) when it was happening on January 6th, but 1/2 of the country (or perhaps, 1/3 hard-core conservatives with the remainder of that 1/2 of the country being people that just don’t care) aren’t listening.

      They have their fingers in their ears going “LALALALALALALA”:

      We have a bifurcated society. There is no reason or rationality here – evidence doesn’t work. Literally anything could be revealed in the proceedings and it won’t move Congress an inch. The viewers of Tucker Carlson aren’t there to have their curiosity piqued. They’re there to get angry ’bout the danged libtards.

    • ubrew12 Says:

      Since when does Faux News need ‘Ads’? When you’re helping the 1% take over America, the money just materializes, all on its own.

  2. neilrieck Says:

    While this link doesn’t mention Fox News at all, it shed some light on an American problem that has been growing since the end of the Vietnam War.

  3. Whatever happened to debate? Phil Donahue and Larry King would have people they disagreed with on as guest and try to refute them. Now the left wing media is all about keeping differing opinions out of the public discussion. We’re now facing an Orwellian ministry of truth (Disinformation Governance Board).

    • greenman3610 Says:

      • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

        I’m seeing more mainstream media people (in this case, Ari Melber) try to improve their interview techniques by politely slowing down the bullshit and questioning the bullshit without stomping on the interviewees talking points.

        (IIRC, Chuck Todd is notorious for not asking obvious followup questions and just letting the BS sit there unchallenged.)

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      “Whatever happened to debate? ”

      Ask the Republicans. They were offered complete parity of representation on the panel, and they refused to participate.

      Did you forget?

    • Gingerbaker Says:

      “We’re now facing an Orwellian ministry of truth …”

      Oh, that is just preposterously rich coming from the side of the aisle that calls lies “alternative facts” and whose leaders refuse to acknowledge Joe Biden as the legitimate winner of the election, favoring instead Trump who pathologically lies like a rug.

      There is a damned good reason for that Disinformation Board and these Congressional hearings – you Republicans are big fat unrepentant documented liars.

      FFS, Louie Gohmert just spoke *publicly* about what a shame it was that you can’t get away with lying to Congress or an FBI agent anymore! Was there any outrage about his comments from the right? Or just crickets? Gosh… imagine that.

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