Welcome to the world of “alternative facts,” or as some might say, “fake news.” It is a baffling culture of claims and counterclaims, where what was once considered urban legends, now spread with frightening speed on media platforms that spark angry backlashes from a generation born with the innate read-and-react response.
Fake news is not new, but because now we live in an age where information spreads around the world in seconds with bots being blamed for manipulating public opinion, you should wonder what your publisher’s main agenda is. You expect to find sensational gossip and rumor in tabloid sites not during your morning news.
Things are Different Now
Even the most respected publishers and advertisers are guilty of some falsities. The number of full-time news writers in the U.S. is half of what it was in 1990. Today, bloggers, interns, copywriters and anyone else around who can bootleg hard news from outside sources are usually redelivering content. The headline writers whose job is to draw people in shouldn’t take all the blame either. Clickbait and opinion in a post-fact era create a slippery slope of what people are now referring to as fake news.
Sometimes well-intended content providers care more about reaping the benefit of consumers’ curiosity than delivering contextual information. Facts are facts and truth is not in the eye of the beholder, however today’s digital advertising begs the questions do you invest in influencing, lead generation best practices, or informing and can they all coincide? Unfortunately, sometimes it’s easier to accommodate the lowest common denominator.
Social media is now a powerful advertising platform flooded with blasphemous journalism and political propaganda. Some believe automated social media is controlling people. In Russia, 45 percent of Twitter accounts are run by bots according to a study reported by Shivali Best for MailOnline. Twitter and Facebook both insist they have strict rules on what can be advertised on political advertising. Regardless, the use of social media adverts in politics can have a major impact, even though swaying parties this way is not any more malice than the propaganda posters of the 1960s. The only difference is the volume of people and how quickly these messages are sent out. People would not have believed old tactics if they had the ‘knowledge’ of the internet then. And eventually AI and AR forms will deliver us the ‘scoop’ and we may find ourselves heading back to the internet for reliable messages. It’s technological and political evolvement.
Makes you wonder if democracy will survive social media. Ten years ago, people debated in bars and talked out issues with the information they had read that morning or seen after dinner. The social media scene we’re living in now is in a constant state of argument. There is no ‘closing time.’
And then again, fake news can be hope or a form of entertainment for some muddling through this politically charged environment we’re living in. Often people are more apt to accept spectacular news because the truth is too difficult to accept. People feed off curiosity and the mystery of what could be. Make believe is more palpable than surrendering to hard facts that contradict personal beliefs.
The Giants are Watching
“The major new challenge in reporting news is the new shape of truth,” says Kevin Kelly, a technology author and co-founder of Wired magazine. “Truth is no longer dictated by authorities, but is networked by peers. For every fact, there is a counter fact. All those counter facts and facts look identical online, which is confusing to most people.”
Social media sites themselves are already taking steps to better this situation. Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, recently said Facebook would work to reduce sensationalism in its news feed on its site by looking at whether people have read content before sharing it. It has also updated its advertising policies to reduce spam sites that profit off fake stories, and added tools to let users flag fake articles.
Other tech titans also claim to be taking the problem seriously. Apple’s Tim Cook recently raised concerns about fake news, and Google says it is working on ways to improve its algorithms so they take accuracy into account when displaying search results. “Judging which pages on the web best answer a query is a challenging problem and we don’t always get it right,” says Peter Barron, vice president of communications for Europe, Middle East and Asia at Google.
Google is also helping fact-checking organizations, like Full Fact, create an automated fact-checker that will monitor claims made on TV, in newspapers, in parliament or on the internet. It is an approach being attempted by several different groups around the world.
Tech is Here to Stay
New technologies coupled with self-awareness and knowledge should significantly drop the usage of fake news. There is too much attention and too much opportunity with fake news for tech companies not to jump on this bandwagon. This new technology will need to target correctly though. Headlines like “Statistics Show that Teenage Pregnancy Drops off Significantly After 25” and “Ireland is Now Officially Accepting Trump Refugees from America” are equally offensive. However, the first example is not a hoax, it’s just an ignorant headline, the second one is fake news.
As a publisher, you should make sure that negative content or fake news doesn’t land on your sites, giving your brand a bad reputation and upping your bounce rate. And as an advertiser, you need to realize that clickbait and high CTRs will not garnish conversions long-term. You will be chasing your tail as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and media giants crack down on fake news.