On Tuesday, the Federal Trade Commission issued guidelines to help prevent deceptive native advertising. And last Friday, Washington Post reporter Caitlin Dewey turned in her last “What Was Fake On The Internet Last Week,” having concluded that fake news had just become a big business, for which exposure brings no shame or correction.
Dewey reports, “ Where debunking an Internet fake once involved some research, it’s now often as simple as clicking around for an ‘about’ or ‘disclaimer’ page. And where a willingness to believe hoaxes once seemed to come from a place of honest ignorance or misunderstanding, that’s frequently no longer the case. Headlines like “Casey Anthony found dismembered in truck” go viral via old-fashioned schadenfreude — even hate.”
That Casey Anthony thing came from a site called “Now8News” that I am supposing is designed to look like a local TV news site, so as to better confuse you. It is also reporting that Burger King has made it corporate policy to refuse to sell a Diet Coke to customers who order a 2,000 calorie Double Whopper, because “it doesn’t make sense.”
As Dewey writes, these fake news sites exist to excite the gullible. “Middle-aged conservatives” are a good target, she reports one fake-news veteran told her, because once they get excited, they like to share their outrage (with ad-laded links) on Facebook. (If you begin to suspect Donald Trump’s “birther” activism and his current standing among particularly stupid Republicans is not a coincidence, well, good for you.)
The FTC also cautions against vague labels like “Promoted Content." Native ads can be mistaken for real editorial copy, or actual video unless users are explicitly told they’re in the middle of a commercial. But, as we’ll hear again in the days to come, native proponents will argue that kind of honesty would ruin everything.
Those stories and videos are like the ones I came across on the British-based lad-culture site, UniLad. The “Sponsored Content” at this moment on that site includes: “1 Odd Method Restores Perfect Vision. Try This”, “Discount Site Sells Apple Products For $20-$35”, and “Obamacare Creates Death Panels To Decide If You Live or Die.” (Oops. That last one isn’t on the site and it isn’t true. That’s what Vice Presidential candidate and famed Fox commentator Sarah Palin said.)
I only bring up UniLad because those bogus click bait items and videos are at the bottom of a legitimate UniLad story titled, “Hilarious Video Breaks Down Everything Wrong With Online Prank Videos.”
That is a story about a video showing how prank videos are faked, which reports, in addition, that pranking black people is popular “because they have ‘better reactions’ which equals more views on a video and consequently more money.”
So there’s a Website that applauds a video for exposing phony prank videos, followed by money-making sponsored items with phony “news” stories. It’s apparent many online publishers have never heard that cliche about what the pot called the kettle.
That, to a lot of people, is the Internet in nutshell. If successful advertising depends on a good environment, what are users supposed to conclude when they see the crap merchants many publishers associate firstname.lastname@example.org