Heroes, Villains -- And Fake News

Since the election, much has been written about fake news as a “new” phenomenon that may or may not have had an impact on the result.  Of course, those of us in this space know that, while the news may be fake, the story is an old one.

The proliferation of fake news sites is the same old fraudulent click-bait scenario that the industry has been dealing with for many years. But for the perpetrators, this time it wasn’t lurid tales from Hollywood or the latest miracle in weight loss — it was news-based content and political commentary that was developed specifically to hit what was already the most contentious presidential election of our time. 

The fraudsters/bad actors (insert your favorite description here) spotted an opportunity and took advantage of the situation, creating and distributing content they knew would resonate for an already amped-up audience.   

Algorithms and programmatic automation have been cast in leading roles for this story, and they certainly played their part. But the real star was social media and its viral components, as like-minded people shared content on a grand scale.  In fact, according to, fake news stories dramatically outperformed those from well-known media in their propensity to go viral.



The real news, however, is that this story is helping to further illustrate the disparity of content quality sold through programmatic channels.

While it continues to evolve and expand into different areas of media, at its heart, programmatic is an audience- (not content-) centric approach to buying and selling. 

Of course the industry’s shift to an audience approach isn’t without its risks to brands.  Even the right message to the right user is less valuable, and in some cases detrimental, in the wrong environment.  This is another reminder for brands that low CPMs can come at a price — both to their marketing efforts, and the industry as a whole.

Even before the breaking of these fake stories, news and information content has been easy to commoditize in the open exchange. With the continued quest for the perfect target audience at scale AND at the lowest price point, there are inevitably some instances where a marketer’s message is weakened by adjacency to bad content.  

But while the perpetrators of this fraud have been profiting at the industry’s expense for some time, publishers now have the ability to help brands fight back.  Through PMP (private marketplace) deals, brands can ensure that their message will be delivered in a safe environment, and publishers can maximize the value of their inventory.  In addition, publishers of comparable content are banding together to create “co-operatives” where brands draw the benefits of a scaled targeted solution, in a safe environment.

The election is over, and the fake news villains are still with us.  Through their quality offerings in the private marketplace, publishers have the opportunity to be heroes.

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