top of page

COVID Fake News costs lives:

But we can turn the tide.

Stop Funding Fake News – 20/04/20
Face Mask

Earlier this year, stories emerged of arson attacks on newly installed mobile phone masts. One attack targeted a phone mast serving the Nightingale Hospital in Birmingham, potentially preventing families from contacting their loved ones. It demonstrates that conspiracy theories and fake news are often believed, acted upon, and are particularly dangerous in the age of coronavirus.


Many of the conspiracy theories about coronavirus – including the one about coronavirus and 5G – can be traced back to a network of fake news sites, often republishing each other’s content, that push wild conspiracy theories about the origins of the virus, alongside articles hyping fake “cures” for coronavirus. Worse still, this network is financially enabled by advertising from some of the world’s most popular brands, placed on those sites by Google Ads and similar services. 


Stop Funding Fake News is a campaign that defunds fake news sites by showing advertisers their adverts appearing on racist, bigoted, conspiracist or simply mendacious content. Most often those advertisers are horrified and remove their ads immediately, usually with a strong complaint to Google Ads for placing their brands on fake news sites in the first place. Alongside our campaigning work, we monitor a whole array of fake news sites. Common to all of them is the ability to spin any event – including coronavirus – as a way to advance their invariably hate-filled agenda. This is why the Community Security Trust has raised the alarm about how some of the worst fake news about coronavirus places Jews at the center of a conspiracy to infect the world. There is nothing new here, nor should there be any surprise that others seek to use the pandemic to whip up hate against migrants, scientists, open societies or democratic politics.


A more direct way in which these lies can put lives at risk is through the pushing of ineffective “miracle cures.” This produces two equally destructive outcomes. First, it makes readers believe they can purchase resistance to coronavirus and so don’t have to follow the same guidelines as the rest of us. Second, it cultivates distrust in the medical establishment, which poses a risk to any future testing or vaccination campaign.


At times of global crises, there has always been an opportunity for scammers and cranks. The difference today is that these dangerous fake news sites are being inadvertently funded by some of our most beloved brands. At the centre of it is Google. GoogleAds take advantage of brands’ ignorance about where their adverts are placed to make money from clicks through to these dangerous websites. Both Google and the fake news sites profit to the tune of millions of pounds a year.


However, this isn’t inevitable, and there is something we can all do to put a stop to this situation. Over the last year Stop Funding Fake News and its supporters have persuaded dozens of brands to remove their adverts from fake news sites. As major brands like Macmillan Cancer Support, eBay, Sky, and WWF have pulled their ads, fake news sites have seen their clickbait-based business models fail. We can empirically show the effects of our campaigning - some of the fake news sites we targeted have now closed down, and the others have fewer staff, fewer articles and a smaller reach, all meaning fewer people are infected with the virus of misinformation.


In the wake of this crisis, as all parts of our society play their role in containing a threat we haven’t faced for generations, Stop Funding Fake News is shifting its aim to the sites publishing the most dangerous lies about coronavirus with its new campaign #LiesCostLives. The sites we’ve identified get upwards of 60 million hits a month which our calculations estimate raises over $5 million a year thanks to the GoogleAds network. 


We can change this – but we need your help.


Here’s three things you can do right now:


  1. Share this Page right now on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms you use, including messaging apps

  2. Go to @SFFakeNews, follow us and start tweeting at the brands identified as advertising on coronavirus fake news sites. Be polite but firm. Demand action to remove their ads using the hashtag #LiesCostLives and tagging our Twitter handle in your post so we can amplify it

  3. If you can and want to support our work, you can help us fund better content and reach by donating to our GoFundMe.

This crisis may have brought out the worst in some, but it has brought out the best in so many of us. From neighbourhood collectives helping their elderly neighbours to the doctors, nurses, cleaners, administrators and other staff in the NHS daily putting their lives at risk. The #LiesCostLives campaign gives you a chance to be on the front lines of containing the infodemic of fake news from the safety of your own home. 


Join us, and let's Stop Funding Fake News, together.

bottom of page