The Reasons:

Fake news seems to be the flavour of the month – or certainly for 2016, according to the Macquarie dictionary. There are two main reasons which easily explain the phenomenon, 1) power and 2) money.

Propaganda is nothing new – Goebbels used it with aplomb during WW2 and we are absolutely surrounded by it today. Propaganda is, to all intents and purposes, the craft of politicians. Just flick between the left-leaning vs right-leaning news channels to see the stark contrast in the coverage of in many should-be identical stories. Need I mention the US election…

Money. In truth money and power are just different sides of the same coin, but understanding how money is spent and earned is critical to understanding the problem. The growth in advertising spend being allocated to digital channels is staggering, and it is expected to continue at least for the foreseeable future. This demand to push advertising on digital first gave rise to ‘clickbait’ and more latterly out-and-out fake news or ‘alternative facts’. Or just lies! There are thousands of people on the web who made up sensationalist fake news stories – just to earn advertising dollars. There are reports that some fake news ‘curators’ were able to earn tens of thousands of dollars per month.

“It’s Nothing” AND “It’s Scary”

According to an article on Vox.com, there was a negligible impact of fake news on the outcome of the election. The article talks about the election specifically, and personally I do have my reservations about the hypothesis and the conclusion as “It’s Nothing”. The fact that many people are being influenced emotionally by such content. Often emotion and reason don’t go hand-in-hand.

On the other side, the “It’s Scary” side, an article from VanityFair.com paints a picture of the future as a very fearful place. They talk about the technologies that are emerging from computer labs around the world – from the “photoshop for audio” through to real-time altering of facial expressions on video streams.

The Solution?

There really is only one solution: remove the incentive to run fake news. It’s rational economics that with a high reward and low cost, there will be a flood of such stories out there. The market-places which sell advertising, and really we mean Google and Facebook here, are taking steps to cut off ad-revenues, but advertisers also need to stand firm. They should take the moral high-ground and demand that their ads are not positioned next to incendiary content AND not only that of an extremist nature. Let’s raise that moral bar just that little bit higher shall we.

The BBC also talks more about both human and technological solutions to the phenomenon.

Raising the Standard

Unfortunately for such a vitally important role such as journalism, there has been a general trend towards poorer and poorer quality over the last decade – it is likely no coincidence that this correlates with the drop in revenues for the traditional print publishers. Couple this with today’s near insatiable need for amusement and device addiction, this has led to shorter shallower content production – with punchy (click-bait-y) headlines. All for the ‘eyeballs’.

We as an industry need to find a model where the market both appreciates high-quality content, and is willing to pay for it. That will happen naturally over time, publishers are experimenting with new models, some more successful than others. The cost of production is dropping – this is one of the major benefits of a move to digital – and as the tools for production become more powerful and easier to use, this will allow journalists to focus on richer, digital-specific content that can be monetized better than anytime in history.

Solutions such as Reactive DPS can help your team produce better content and in-turn earn higher revenues from your digital platform. If you would like more information on how, then drop us a quick note and we will happily discuss it with you.