Hypocritical Anticapitalists - for-profit pseudo-scientific disinformation on the internet
Many websites and associated social media platforms disseminating fake news, conspiracy theories and pseudo-scientific content do so primarily for financial gain, profiting from visitors to the website through online advertising systems. This is a worldwide phenomenon, that our study tracked with a novel methodology in Hungary. Although a number of outstanding studies in the past have already dealt with the business background of fake news, this report is the first to provide a quantitative estimate of the profits Hungarian pages generate for sites which systemically spread disinformation about the coronavirus, related treatments and health in general – oftentimes tying these into other topics, such as political conspiracy theories.
These revenues are rather significant. Based on Google Ads, we estimate that the 93 click-bait websites examined, promoting pseudo-scientific or COVID-sceptical content or advertising alternative medicine or anti-vaccine information, generate up to 3.7 billion HUF annually (about 10 million EUR) in advertising revenues for their creators. This amount is one and a half times the advertising revenues (2.496 billion HUF) that the commercial channel RTL Klub received from the state in 2020 according to official figures. In 2022, the profitability of such websites has increased significantly as a result of both the intense political campaign (which drives up advertising prices) as well as the pandemic, which has increased not only the amount of time users spend online but also the volume of online commerce.
The disseminators of alternative medicinal solutions and pseudo-scientific products are characterised by a kind of hypocritical anticapitalism. While advocating against the “pharmaceutical mafia,” they obtain tremendous profits both directly (through website advertisements and clicks) and indirectly (through the promotion of products). Thus, the editors of pseudo-scientific websites are not victims of deception, nor are they “useful idiots” disseminating disinformation: they are, in fact, motivated by financial and political interests as they make the spreading of disinformation an effective tool of their marketing efforts.
Our full study, first published in February 2022, is available in Hungarian here.
The English summary of the report is available here.