Did you believe that opening paragraph? There’s no way you did. It’s ludicrous.
The challenge is, the Web is full of these kinds of stories — and people actually believe them! The “fake news” meme is all over the Internet, because the Web is an open publishing format with little to no accountability. I can write the above story, post it on a “reputable” blog somewhere and if enough people repost and tweet it, it becomes news.
In this day and age, if a tree falls in the forest and there was someone there to tweet it, it just as easily turns into a catastrophe of epic proportions. It’s the modern-day equivalent of the telephone game.
Advertisers are the backbone of the Web. Advertising supports the access to free content — without it, we would be paying subscription fees to every site and platform we use. Since advertising carries so much weight in the digital media business, advertisers need to hold publishers accountable for the content they carry, ensuring it’s not fake.
It’s hard to be a news organization today, but that cannot be an excuse for sloppy journalism. True journalists check their sources and are accountable to what they report. The challenge is, everyone wants the scoop and to be able to break the story, because that converts into page views, which become revenue.
In a hurried news cycle, when any story may only have 15 minutes of fame, news organizations are actually disincentivized to fact-check and confirm a story before publishing because there’s no guarantee the competition will honor the same process of authentication. It’s about getting the drop and pushing the story quickly.
The fact that a number of news orgs reported that CNN ran 30 minutes of porn without checking on it is actually kind of sad. That so many other people picked up the story and ran with it is worse.
Of course, not all of the fake news is due to reputable sources. Much of it comes from extremist sources around the Web that operate solely to mess with the system. They have a voice because of click-bait and social media. Thankfully they don’t have widespread pop-up windows anymore, or the Web would be 100% intolerable!
Advertisers do have a duty to hold their publishers accountable, and they can. They should take away sponsor dollars when a site incorrectly publishes fake content and doesn’t fulfill its duty to fact-check.
Or, if they do run such news, they should at the very least be clear that this is unsubstantiated, and they are not responsible for the content of the report. At least that would be open and honest, even if not quite ethical.
Maybe I’m a purist, but I think digital media should be held to the same (if not higher) standard than other forms of media.
I’m a parent and I won’t let my kids on the Web, because I fear what they will find. Even the regular news, the kind that is substantiated, is disturbing enough that I don’t want to subject them to it yet. I want their innocence to be preserved for a little while longer – it’s something they can never have back.
Of course, going back to my fake report up top, the 468x60 banner would be awesome. I can absolutely see people trying to click on their TVs again. It would be fun to watch!