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New research uncovers how misinformation groups make money online


New research uncovers how misinformation groups make money online

Wooden blocks with letters forming words "Fact" and "Fake" on ne Wooden blocks with letters forming words "Fact" and "Fake" on ne
Published on
19 Jan 2023
Written by
Aliaksandr Herasimenka
University of Oxford researchers have published new work exploring how health misinformation campaigns are able to operate and succeed online, using infrastructure provided by the world’s leading tech companies.

Research led by Dr Aliaksandr Herasimenka at the Oxford Internet Institute, published in the Journal of Communication, shows how health misinformation groups receive funds.

The researchers suggest that understanding how misinformation groups or ‘actors’ are able to succeed and profit from these campaigns can provide solutions for tackling the spread of misleading information, potentially preventing loss of life or detrimental health effects for individuals.

The research study analysed data from 59 groups involved with communicating misinformation on vaccine programmes, finding 85% of the websites of anti-vaccination groups showed some attempt to make profit.

The misinformation groups were able to monetize their campaigns, chiefly through three strategies:

  • Acting like celebrities – keeping their followers attention and giving an impression of perceived intimacy between them and their followers.
  • Behaving like social movements – using networks of online forums to reinforce their messaging.
  • Using tactics employed by junk news – appearing like a traditional news outlet but presenting distorted, polarizing content.

Most groups then went on to appeal for donations. Strategies to receive revenue through advertising and e-commerce were also employed, although less frequently.  The websites of groups rely on infrastructure provided by well-known, mainstream platforms. The study shows that some groups received payments using Paypal, Amazon Smile and crowdfunding websites, as well as credit card payment systems. These platforms provide the infrastructure that allows the websites to receive donations, membership fees, advertising revenue and e-commerce payments. By operating commercially these groups fund and sustain their communication strategies and are able to spread further misinformation.

Dr Herasimenka commented on the findings, showing how they can inform solutions to tackling health misinformation online:

“In order to stop health misinformation from running wild online, groups pushing health misinformation need to be prevented from accessing the infrastructure that gives them the tools to succeed.  Companies that currently allow them to use their payment systems and benefit from commercial enterprises need to look at how their platforms are being used to spread incorrect information which can damage peoples’ health”.

Read the research in full in the Journal of Communication: The political economy of digital profiteering: communication resource mobilization by anti-vaccination actors.

Media information

For further information please contact Sara Spinks/Roz Pacey, Media and Communications Manager, Oxford Internet Institute; call 01865 287210 or email

Notes to Editors

About the OII

The Oxford Internet Institute (OII) is a multidisciplinary research and teaching department of the University of Oxford, dedicated to the social science of the Internet. Drawing from many different disciplines, the OII works to understand how individual and collective behaviour online shapes our social, economic and political world. Since its founding in 2001, research from the OII has had a significant impact on policy debate, formulation and implementation around the globe, as well as a secondary impact on people’s wellbeing, safety and understanding. Drawing on many different disciplines, the OII takes a combined approach to tackling society’s big questions, with the aim of positively shaping the development of the digital world for the public good.

This work was supported by The Adessium, Civitates, Craig Newmark Philanthropies, Luminate, Ford Foundations, the Open Society Foundations [OR2019-63102], the Oxford Martin Programme, University of Oxford and the Wellcome Trust [217683/Z/19/Z]. Kate Joynes-Burgess acknowledges the support of from a Wellcome Trust Doctoral Studentship. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the funders.


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