MGID is a programmatic advertising platform frequently used by misinformation websites. The reasons for its popularity is likely as a result of the manner in which MGID propagates its own content.
MGID calls itself a “global pioneer in native advertising for both advertisers and publishers”. A website owner dedicates a portion of their webpage to the MGID widget, which in turn populates it with ads with little further intervention from the website owner.
What makes MGID particularly attracive for misinformation websites is the way in which it creates a network of websites with those that uses its platform.
In addition to the “regular” advertisments that appear on the platform, MGID also allocates a portion of the advertising space to other websites that make use of it. This means your website could be advertising any other website that also makes use of MGID to do its advertsiing. In return, your website is also advertised on other sites, potentially increasing your site’s reach.
The net effect is a network of websites, promoting not only the advertisements found on MGID, but also each other.
The advertisements used by MGID feature lurid thumbnails. Splashed across the screenspace you are likely to find an advert for “Asian beauties that will seduce any man” alongside a particularly suspect image of a man’s finger covered in Vaseline. Another link leads to a website providing Russian brides for sale. Bitcoin investments, forex schemes and other get-rich-quick arrangements are also frequently listed between MGID’s ads.
The ads also use your browser’s geolocation to “localise” adverts. An example of this can be seen in the differences between the adverts seen by a user in Cape Town to that of a user in Johannesburg.
This creates an air of legitimacy, as the advert appears to be local.
Obtaining comment from MGID was nearly impossible. Initial requests asking to speak with an official spokesperson or media office were met with instructions to refer any questions directly to the website owners, as “[MGID] only works with publishers and advertisers.”.
Additional follow-ups containing very specific and detailed questions regarding MGID’s advertising practices on fake news sites were initially ignored. Upon persistent followup MGID eventually responded, but incredibly it labored under the impression that News24’s questions were a business proposition.
“We will be glad to monetize your audience with our native ad units. Please let us know which sites you are interested in monetizing with us. Could you please let me know how many visitors per day you have on them?”
It was concerning that a company providing a platform that makes fake news profitable was unable to read, comprehend and respond to questions on how their business model funds fake news. This is the same company tasked with assessing the content of ads and determining whether the content transgresses their standards, a task which is clearly unable to enforce if the quality of the ads is considered.
Determining the amount of money made by the sites is difficult. MGID estimates its revenue generation at US$1to US$3 per thousand views. Taken over the course of a month the number of visitors, clicks and eventual revenue flowing towards fake news websites eventually adds up.
These figures are obviously dependent on a host of factors, and without confirmation from either the MGID or the website owner, the amount of money generated by a fake news website remains an educated guess at best.