What exactly, is fake news and can it impact your digital marketing? (The answer is yes.)
Fake news is not satire, like The Onion, and it’s not solely politically-focused, although the term “fake news” came to light during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. It’s an issue of questionable online content—and shady publishers—spreading rumors or false information intended to be believed and shared, with the goal of attracting people.
Fake news sites feed off sensationalism and ignore the ethical rules of fact-based journalism. The more people click, the more this drives ad revenue, with cash lining the content creator’s pocketbook. It’s a vicious cycle.
So, if fake news sites are misleading and dishonest, why do advertisers support them?
The rise of programmatic, or automated, advertising—when marketers use software to purchase digital advertising across the Internet (as opposed to the old-fashioned traditional process involving ad buyers and salespeople)—has inadvertently contributed to the popularity of fake news sites.
Marketers have become enablers. According to a study by the Society for New Communications Research of The Conference Board, almost half of those surveyed admitted not knowing where their ads were running.
And while many marketers were concerned about brand integrity (an ad on a fake site can quickly put a company’s reputation at risk), they also believed the automated problem is too widespread and challenging to moderate.
According to AdAge:
“Despite programmatic’s claims to be fully automated, algorithms aren’t always adept enough to identify a site as “fake” or not. A fake site may appear legitimate to an algorithm, but illegitimate to a human at an agency.”
This human element is why more and more agencies are hiring specialists to personally manage campaigns. Some specialists are creating detailed whitelists, with ads only appearing on listed sites. Whitelists can restrict impressions, but help to separate legit, trusted companies from fake news sites.
Another way publishers are combatting fake news ads—or clickbait—is closely monitoring any sketchy-looking ads with high click-through rates and cutting them off at the source, like pulling a weed at the root.
Others are doing their part, too. Facebook took steps to remove accounts used to spread false information, gave users the means to flag questionable content, and updated algorithms to identify misleading content. Google is also prioritizing high-quality content. (Pinterest and Instagram are more visual in nature, so not as affected.)
At the end of the day, we live in a digital world with technology dramatically changing how we process information. Consumers are tasked with examining the source, reading beyond sensational headlines, and questioning everything, and marketers are tasked with delivering quality content that builds brand loyalty and adds value. Trust in the marketplace is more important than ever.
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