This afternoon the Nadace Open Society Foundations (OSF) released a study (Czech only right now – Google Translate is your friend) outlining how 122 Czech and Slovak disinformation websites, by their analysis, make anywhere from €920,000 to €1.24 million a year in advertising revenue.
For background, I’ve touched on the world on Czech disinformation here (a better breakdown from 2015 on both Czech and Slovak disinformation is here). This is an interesting analysis that confirms what a lot of us already know – that some disinformation websites can make decent money from ads.
But before it breaks further in English, I’ve got a few observations and thoughts.
1) The ad revenue is ridiculously concentrated among the big players
According to Nadace OSF’s analysis the total ad revenue per month of all these sites combined is 3,357,393 Czech crowns (~€128,700).
But take a look at how much the five biggest sites take up – and, particularly the first. the popular Breitbart-esque Parlamentní listy (figures from report, calculations mine):
|Website||Estimated monthly income (CZK)||% of all disinfo websites|
|Total, Top 5||3,069,777||91.4%|
|Total, All sites||3,357,393||–|
I think it’d be more effective to point out how much ad revenue a few specific Czech and Slovak disinformation websites take in, rather than lump them all together to get a higher dollar/Euro value. Also, not all these websites have the same reach and, it has to be noted, some of them even have ad revenue – Slovakia’s Slobodný vysielac (Free Transmitter) and Zem a Vek (Earth and Time, though that translation’s always sounded wonky to me) among them.
But another website in that list threw me…
2) Why is Expres.cz included?
I’m not asking this in a snarky way – I’ve always considered it more likely a sleazy Daily-Mail-esque tabloid than a disinformation website like the others here. I see the inclusion of Expres.cz was sourced from http://www.konspiratori.sk, who I assume have a good argument for including them here. (Not sarcasm – I really assume they do.)
3) Careful with the scary, sexy-sounding higher figure
OK, this is a relatively minor data wonk quibble, but the report gave an estimated range of how much ad revenue these sites can pull in over the course of a year – from €900K to €1.2m. The range is there for a reason – it could be that high.
If you’re tweeting about this I think it’s important to state that this €1.2m is the high end of the estimate.
4) Advertising boycotts won’t make these sites go away
Presumably the point of this study is to try and build pressure to get advertisers to pull their ads from disinformation websites (i.e., like Breitbart’s advertisers fleeing in droves). I think this is a worthwhile endeavour, but anyone promoting this in CZ/SK and beyond should recognize that:
a) some of the websites, like PL, seem like they have enough financial resources behind them that a dent in ad revenue won’t cripple them much at all.
b) some of these websites (i.e., most of the smaller ones) are so low-grade and piecemeal they either don’t have any ad revenue or don’t need it, since some of them are literally a guy or two in a basement somewhere doing this stuff on the side.
c) some sites, like the aforementioned Slobodný vysielac and Zem a Vek don’t have any ad revenue at all, so obviously they couldn’t care less about an ad boycott.
Want to promote an ad boycott of disinformation websites? Go ahead, but don’t expect to choke these websites out. At best, expect it (and aim) to raise awareness of why people shouldn’t bother with these kinds of websites (e.g., “hey, if [insert company X] thinks it’s wrong to advertise on PL maybe there’s a good reason why”) and use it as a tool to talk even more about disinformation and the “fake news” phenomenon.