Is Business Just Business? The Questions We’re All Asking About Decide’s Ties to Alt-right

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  • Published on September 20, 2022
  • Last Updated October 15, 2022
  • In News

"Online advertising is everywhere. And, —even the annoying ones with the clickbait headlines or dramatic claims about cures your doctor will hate— those ads are likely the backbone of the way your favorite websites make money.

You read their content, click their ads, and that click becomes cash.

And not just for the website you’re on. But for the companies which placed those ads using algorithms to automatically spread them at vast scale across the internet."

- Danny Wicentowski, reporter for St. Louis Public Radio

In this brief but informative podcast episode from St. Louis On the Air, another journalist discusses LockerDome's business with the Alt-right; and gets straight to the ethical concerns on every startup founder's lips:

If you're making money, where do you draw the line? Should you even draw a line?


Danny Wicentowski, reporter for St. Louis Public Radio asks the questions we’re all asking ourselves about LockerDome bankrolling the spread of alt-right disinformation in this informative radio interview with Paul Wagman from the Gateway Journalism Review. Where do you draw the ethical line?

I encourage you to listen to the entire 18-minute discussion in all it’s excellence, but for those of you who can’t play sound at work, or don’t have the time right now, I’ve transcribed some of the highlights and edited the points for clarity.

What is LockerDome doing and what are the rest of its clients look like? And what did you find?

Danny Wicentowski [07:41]: So, Reuters called out LockerDome, saying, “this is one of the few companies that are serving this hub of misinformation, and conspiracies and lies.” They’re the ones who are helping them be a profitable website. You then follow that thread to try to figure out, you know, what is LockerDome doing and what are the rest of its clients look like? And what did you find?

Paul Wagman [08:23]: Well, to my astonishment, really, I found that LockerDome was [working] with dozens and dozens of other alt right sites. Here, I want to give a little credit to another St. Louis reporter, named Jonathan Allen, who publishes a website called Entrepreneur Quarterly.

And Jonathan helped me with the research. He actually counted more than 110 Alt-right sites where he where he personally saw with his own eyeballs, ads from LockerDome, or now called Decide, and that’s when he just stopped counting. I myself, saw them —I stopped counting too— on dozens of these alt right sites.

Of these alt right sites, some of them are obscure. Some of them are not. One of them is called Rumble.com. They are the they host Steve Bannon is War Room. And Steve Bannon has also hosted Alex Jones.

So, you know, Decide here is linked to Bannon and Jones. But they’re on many, many sites, many of which are among the champion disinformation sites in this country.

What do we know about the extent of LockerDome business in this area, and without them answering us, or can we ever find out?

Danny Wicentowski [13:03]: We also tried to reach out to LockerDome, which is now called Decide Technologies. And we heard nothing back. You’ve heard nothing back, Reuters have heard nothing back. But from the evidence that we do have that is available on some of these websites Decide publishes a list of it’s approved, it’s sort of selling list of the websites that its ads appear on… What do we know about the extent of LockerDome / Decide Technologies’s business in this area, and without them answering us, or can we ever find out?

Paul Wagman [14:13]: Decide does list many of the websites with which it does business on this list that can be found on the internet. Many of the sites are not disinformation sites. Many of the sites are sites that relate to finances or to health and some are legitimate news sites. However, there’s a substantial number that are these alt right sites.

So in this list, Decide is acknowledging that it is doing business with those alt-right sites, I found many outright sites that weren’t acknowledged by LockerDome or Decide. So the list is, is sort of, a partial guide to their business.

I would say that it’s sort of impossible to know, at this point, what percentage of their business is alt right? I would add that it doesn’t matter.

It doesn’t matter if it’s 75% or 5%. Five percent is, in my view, too much.

You know, if you go to work every day and do your job the way you’re supposed to four days a week. Let’s say, on the fifth day you rob a bank; the fact that you spent only 20% of your time in crime does not get you off the hook.

One thing that is really stunning here is that this is profitable. That there is business to be made here with a website that trafficks in thousands of false stories. Is this just the market at work?

Danny Wicentowski [15:59]: In September of 2021, Google severed its ad relationship to the Gateway Pundit citing the publication of demonstrably false election stories. And it was after Google left that it seems that LockerDome was among a few other of these ad companies that came in to try to get the business that Google had just vacated.

One thing that is really stunning here is that this is profitable. That there is business to be made here with a website that trafficks in thousands of false stories. Is this just the market at work?

Paul Wagman [16:39]: Well, first of all, let me correct one thing, Danny… Google’s departure was not filled by LockerDome, but rather, LockerDome was already there and stayed for a while thereafter.

But to your question to that, you know, the fact that locker dome stayed, they were still making money. Gateway Pundit was still getting those page views. Yes, absolutely. And regardless of what’s happened with the Gateway Pundit, they’re still on all these other sites, they’re still on, you know, a quite a rogue’s gallery of Alt-right sites today.

Is business just business, at a certain point? Can LockerDome just say, “Someone would be serving these ads if not for us. Why shouldn’t we be making some money off this?”

Danny Wicentowski [17:33]: And their [Gateway Pundit’s] page views are still, you know, upwards of a million… they are still a very heavily trafficked website. And their stories are still fairly the same. They are about ‘The Deep State’ at work that’s keeping Trump from being President; that’s, you know, stopping the supposed truth about vaccines from getting out, which is, in their view that vaccines are not working, which is of course incorrect.

But at a certain point of people are clicking on this website, they want to read the Gateway Pundit and what it’s writing. Is business just business, at a certain point? Can LockerDome just say, “Someone would be serving these ads if not for us. Why shouldn’t we be making some money off this?”

Paul Wagman [18:15]: Very good question. Part of the answer is, yes, if LockerDome were to close its doors tomorrow, somebody else would serve those ads. Absolutely.

So the solution isn’t to close down LockerDome. The solution has to be deeper than that. Some way has to be found to regulate the ad tech industry and to try to intervene in an industry that is entirely based on deception.

The ads that locker dome places on these sites and that some of these other ad firms are placing on these disinformation sites. They are themselves disinformation.

This entire industry is based on quackery. It’s disinformation about politics and culture, and it’s disinformation about how to cure your erectile dysfunction and your sciatica. It’s lose 45 pounds in your sleep by taking this pill. I mean, it’s all nonsense.

The profound intervention that would be needed would be something to interrupt that chain of deception. Perhaps it’s regulating advertisements better.

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