Rating Disinformation Risks in South Africa and the UK

Rating Disinformation Risks in South Africa and the UK

  • January 24, 2020

No country or media market is immune from the risk of disinformation. Disinformation campaigns – both domestic and foreign – can spread quickly around any issue. We have recently seen disinformation infiltrate news about Australia’s horrific bushfires and the deadly coronavirus in China.

The GDI has released today two reports to assess these risks for the media markets of South Africa and the United Kingdom (UK). These findings are based on an assessment of 30 of some of the most popular news sites in each country. We picked these two markets as they both have strong journalistic traditions but also more recent problems with disinformation campaigns, led by powerful national actors as well as foreign governments.

Our findings, using a scale of zero (maximum risk) to 100 (minimum risk), show that most news sites in each country carry some mid-level of disinformation risk (see Figures 1 and 2). The GDI risk ratings can help advertisers and ad tech companies to direct their online adverts based on brand safety concerns over disinformation and their own risk mitigation strategies.

Figure 1: Disinformation Risk Scores for 30 Top Sites – South Africa.

In South Africa and the UK, roughly half of the sample of sites falls into a rating of “medium” risk of disinformation. This rating suggests that these news sites have operational integrity weaknesses (like not publishing who owns them and their sources of revenue) and lapses in overall brand trust (like perceptions of lack of accurate coverage).

Figure 2: Disinformation Risk Scores for 30 Top Sites –  UK 

The GDI’s approach is useful to understand the disinformation risks for all types of sites, including mainstream and traditional media outlets. This is because policies and practices that can serve as the “belt and braces” approach alongside good editorial control, are often lacking. And as our survey of experts shows, many high-traffic news sites have a reputation for the active spreading of disinformation, sometimes despite strong policies and procedures that could prevent it.

Sites have been assessed using the GDI’s risk rating methodology, which draws on site-level indicators related to the following 4 pillars:

  • structure (i.e. technical features); 
  • content (i.e. reliability of content);
  • operations (i.e. operational and editorial integrity); and 
  • context (i.e. expert perceptions of brand trust). 

The overall market averages for each pillar reveal notable risks among news sites in both markets. These primarily relate to a news sites’ operational integrity.

  • In the UK, there is key operational information not made public about who owns sites and a site’s sources of revenue. 
  • In South Africa, one of the main challenges is related to the lack of sites having statements of editorial independence (over 80 percent of the sites assess do not have one).
  • And in both markets, there is a strong perception that trust in the brand is undermined by the frequent use of clickbait titles to drive site traffic as well as the perceived failure of sites to visibly correct errors.

Figure 3: South Africa: Market Risk Rating by Pillar

Figure 4: UK: Market Risk Rating by Pillar

The media market reports for South Africa and the UK provide more details about the specific risks and recommended actions. The report and findings for South Africa and the UK were collected as part of a pilot of the GDI methodology in both countries.

Each site’s risk level is calculated according to how far the site’s overall score across the four pillars is from the mean score for the whole market, using the standard deviation (SD) to set these thresholds (see Figure 5).

Figure 5: Risk Levels and Categories

We are using these findings for some of the top sites in each market as an opportunity to engage with them on their scores and policy fixes that could help them better mitigate their disinformation risks.

Through this process, individual site scores will be updated and publicly released. We also will publish findings for at least an additional six countries to create an index of all the country and site findings.

At the GDI, we believe that an independent, trusted and neutral rating of news sites’ disinformation risks is needed and the critical factor to get a whole-of-industry response to a whole-of-industry problem: disinformation.

We look forward to engaging with news sites and the tech industry throughout this process in order to stem the tide of money that incentivises and sustains disinformation.

(The reports can be accessed here for South Africa and the UK.

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