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The "disinformation tax" is making the wrong people very rich

How a percentage of everything we buy ends up in the disinformation economy.

Welcome back to BRANDED, the newsletter uncovering how adtech companies fund hate and disinformation.

Here’s what’s new with us:

Last week, we were at the ANA/BAA Marketing Law Conference in San Diego to speak on a panel opposite Dr. Martin Redish, one of the nation's foremost authorities on constitutional law and the First Amendment.

Christopher Cole, Nandini Jammi, and Holly Melton speak with Dr. Martin Redish at the ANA/BAA Marketing Law Conference

You would think they were throwing us in the ring to FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT! But as we discussed censorship and free speech on stage, Dr. Redish never once called Nandini a “godless commie” or “a Soros stooge.” In fact, he was astonished at the way we organize people to lobby advertisers, calling it one of the purest expressions of free speech he has ever seen.

Dr. Redish is a self-described libertarian and a proponent of Citizens United vs. FEC. He has spent his long legal career arguing that the First Amendment provides both people and corporations the right to advocate for their self-interest.

For him, the First Amendment means that people have a constitutional right to promote their personal self-interests through social media, purchases, and protests — and that corporations (or advertisers) have a right to promote their business interests through ads, marketing campaigns and political contributions. It’s through this push-and-pull friction in the free market that we build the society we want to collectively live in. Free speech is the key to self-determination, he says.

So we were in agreement: There’s nothing more American than walking up to the free market and telling it to drop hate, bigotry, and disinformation or else you’ll take your business elsewhere.

It’s that sacred relationship between customer and business — you have a right to talk. They have a right to respond. There’s just one thing getting in the way here.

We’re all paying the disinformation tax

Even the staunchest free speech advocates are stumped when we tell them: There is no free speech in advertising.

Today, nearly every business in our country —  whether a small mom-and-pop or Nike — is forced to send a percentage of their ad spend towards disinformation.

It’s called the disinformation tax and no one is exempt. That’s because any business that wants to participate in the modern economy has to hand over their ad campaigns to a shadowy constellation of adtech companies that place ads for them.

These adtech middlemen remain accountable to no one, and are levying this tax on the American economy without our knowledge or consent.

We’ve found the adtech supply chain sending advertising dollars to U.S.-sanctioned Russian propaganda sites. We’ve found them distributing ad dollars earmarked for news organizations to Sean Hannity and Dan Bongino. We’ve seen them funnel millions to the Gateway Pundit; as news orgs shut their doors in 2020, Google sent $1.1M of ad revenues to its founder, Jim Hoft.

Jim Hoft (Gateway Pundit) sits in his multi million dollar home and tells a French documentary crew: "we have fact and opinion, but we want it to be true."

It is a shocking use of ad dollars, against the wishes of the thousands of small businesses and advertisers who would very much like to respect their customers’ values.

Taxes can be good. We pay them to fund public infrastructure that benefits all of us, like roads, schools, and firefighters. But a hidden tax? When we’re not in control of our dollars, we lose our voice to build the society we want to live in.

Our money is being systematically distributed towards a sprawling network of outlets that undermine our democracy, aided by a handful of adtech companies that are accountable to no one.

We need to do some overthrowing

This Black Friday, you’re probably enjoying a bunch of awesome sales. But a portion of every purchase you make will be sent directly towards the disinformation economy. It’s our money that funds the disinformation tax.

And if there’s anything we Americans are born ready to do, it’s throwing tea off a boat to protest an absurd tax we don’t think we should have to pay.

We do not have time to wait for regulation. There is no “return to normalcy” if we don’t overthrow the overbearing imperial power (this is a King George reference) that brought us to this place of polarization and division to begin with. This time, our future is being held hostage by a $400B advertising engine.

At Check My Ads Institute, we are in the fight of our lives to take back control of our collective future. So, we’re working to end the ad-funded disinformation economy that promotes:

This Black Friday, there are two ways to help:

Happy long weekend. We are grateful that you’re here.


Claire and Nandini

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