4A’s Advertiser Protection Bureau Tackles Misinformation

A new initiative seeks to help navigate the impact on brand safety

Illustration of hands on a garbage can spilling out things into people's heads
The initiative includes a white paper endorsed by the Global Disinformation Initiative and the European Association of Communications Agencies. 4A's

As we enter the home stretch of the 2020 election season, misinformation and disinformation is top of mind, with implications for platforms, advertisers and agencies alike.

The American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s) Advertiser Protection Bureau (APB), the brand safety unit launched by the 4A’s in 2018, has launched a new initiative to help agencies and brands navigate the issue of misinformation and disinformation and its impact on brand safety.

The stakes

In the age of the coronavirus, disinformation could be a matter of life or death.

OMD executive director, emerging technology platforms Israel Mirsky, who played a prominent role in developing the APB’s misinformation and disinformation efforts noted that the World Health Organization has been referring to an “infodemic” of misinformation and disinformation around pandemic, including deliberate attempts to undermine health.

“Primary in our minds because we’re human beings has been the effect that misinformation and disinformation is having on people. That’s where all of this begins,” Mirsky told Adweek. “When misinformation and disinformation affects such a large number of people at the same time, it also affects brands. We felt it was really important to express and highlight the effect that disinformation is having as a result on growth for brands. We felt like it was critical to take it to that level in order to drive as much focus as was needed on this issue.”

Defining and measuring the problem

Last year, the APB introduced a Brand Safety Playbook to educate agencies and clients on how to best navigate issues around brand safety. The group’s latest expansion is an effort to extend that approach, interpreting proximity to misinformation and disinformation as a brand safety issue.

The APB’s white paper on the topic is endorsed by the Global Disinformation Initiative and the European Association of Communications Agencies (EACA), which includes definitions of misinformation and disinformations and outlines steps to address the issue at a crucial moment. 4A’s CEO Marla Kaplowitz explained that the difference between the two categories involves intent, with “disinformation” differing from “misinformation” in that it includes the intent to deceive.

Mirsky explained that the next step was to take the initiative into the APB’s working groups, where he hopes misinformation/disinformation will be officially recognized as a new category of harmful content for its brand safety guidelines and receive the same approaches for adjacency as other content deemed to be a brand safety risk. He added that the APB views aligning with platforms and a wider group of advertisers as important future steps as well.

“After that, there are a number of recommendations that suggest ways to cut the problem down to size so that it can be managed,” he said, which includes filtering disinformation across platforms and prioritizing items for fact checking. “We believe that could have a fundamental effect on the problem.”

Another element is gaining a concrete understanding of just how prevalent the issue is.

The APB has worked with the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM) to gather prevalence data for other brand safety categories and Mirsky said the group needs to apply a similar approach to misinformation.

“We think we need transparency in terms of the prevalence of misinformation. Right now that’s an important element,” he said. “Transparency in general will help to create additional movement, a better understanding across platforms on how many items are being actioned, how quickly they’re being made available.”


@ErikDOster erik.oster@adweek.com Erik Oster is an agencies reporter for Adweek.
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