Hi, Folha, How Are You?

The Newspaper's effort to combat fake news is being sabotaged by marketing algorithms

I have been receiving messages from readers recommending content that would be more enlightening than the articles that Folha is currently producing.

"Excuse me for being frank, but the media is either sold to the system or very incompetent. The cure for Sars-CoV-2 has been around for over 70 years. They are hiding it from the people and causing them to die unnecessarily", a reader told me when recommending a video.

In the video, a man who claims to be a doctor, researcher, and scientist advertises the famous hydroxychloroquine. According to him, a drug has existed for 70 years and "fits like a glove" in the fight against Covid-19.
"And when people talk about it in the media, bad about the medicine, saying that it has terrible side effects, that's a lie."

With over 32 thousand views, the man also offers a course for R $ 39.90 and asks the channel for help for R $ 7.99.
The strategy must be working. The video is sponsored by well-known brands, proof that you can make money from misinformation.

What if the reader found, in one of these channels, a Folha ad? It happened.
On Monday (18), a Twitter profile warned: "Oi Folha, how are you? I was searching and found an ad on the site that spread the most fake news during the 2018 election. An informative media ad on a misinformation site doesn't work, right? Pls, consider blocking."

The advertisement for a collection of Folha books was found on the Jornal da Cidade Online, a portal accused of producing offensive content and misinformation. Its editor-in-chief, José Tolentino, told Folha that the vehicle is undergoing "nasty attacks" and that the portal is independent.

"Sleeping Giants," a movement created in 2016 in the USA, alerted Folha to the ad. The group, anonymous here, said alerts companies that support, involuntarily and through advertisements, far-right websites that publish misinformation and encourage hate speech (prejudice, racism, homophobia).

Interestingly, Folha advertised on a website that produces content against the newspaper. In one of the interviews broadcast by the Tolentino portal, made with Bolsonarista deputies during the CPI against fake news, a reporter asks: "It is another fake news published by Folha; enough, right?".

It seems contradictory that Folha, which emphatically positions itself against false content, at the same time promotes advertising on a channel in which it will probably not win subscribers or readers for its collections.
To understand what happened, however, it is necessary to know that, today, advertising is no longer limited to the traditional purchase of ad space where the company wants to see its brand.

With the proliferation of sites on the internet, this choice has become much more difficult and costly.
Companies like Google offer a system for distributing banners on websites and blogs, the so-called "programmatic media," to make it easier.

The advertiser defines the characteristics of the audience he wants to reach and can choose sites he doesn't want to appear on - which needs to be done by looking at address by address.
But a more straightforward process allows the advertiser to exclude entire categories of sites (sex or violent). The categorization, however, follows information given by the site owner himself. In addition, the act of excluding a category (politics, for example) means giving up the entire universe of sites related to the topic.

The audience moves the whole process, which looks good for Google, which has a tool for companies that automate the distribution of ads and gain scale for their brands. And for websites.
Professionals contacted by the column say that, in general, of the amount disbursed by the advertiser, the advertising agency gets a percentage around 10% to 15% to manage the process. Between 5% and 15% goes to Google, and the rest is distributed to hundreds or thousands of sites that earn per click.

After the incident, Folha said: "Due to a procedural error, advertisements from the Folha Collection appeared on the fake news website Jornal da Cidade Online. After an alert, our marketing team has suspended the running of campaigns on third party sites and is reviewing blocked domains".

Through a spokesperson, Google says the platforms offer robust controls that block categories of subjects and specific websites and generate real-time reports on where the ads were shown.

Finally, the "Sleeping Giants" strategy recalls pressure from environmentalists on large companies and their investments. You need to understand better the criteria they use to monitor disinformation pages.

And the reader? You need to take responsibility for what you seek as information. And understand that news is not made to confirm your opinions.

Flavia Lima

Reporter specializing in economics, she graduated in social sciences from USP and in law from Mackenzie. Se has been the ombudsman at Folha since May 2019.

Translated by Kiratiana Freelon