As you have probably read, Merriam Webster has pronounced “surreal” as the word of the year. But that’s not it.
“Fake” was. Particularly online, the whole business pivots on phoniness. It took a goofy-looking Russian to point that out, but not to invent the condition.
For years, phony operators have been pretending to serve ads going to fake Web sites and being seen by fake customers. That is called a “viewability” problem. It shouldn’t be surprising that the everything-is-fake trend exploded in 2016. Sites also served fake news, or real news commented on by readers and viewers who use fake names to rile the masses, or insult them.
Even the Russians got into the ad fraud business.
The Wall Street Journal reported on Dec. 21 that Russian hackers were defrauding advertisers out of more than $3 million a day, according to fraud detection experts White Ops. The Russians allegedly “used hundreds of servers in the U.S. and the Netherlands to create nonhuman or ‘bot’ traffic, and directed that traffic to load Web pages featuring video ads from major advertisers, mostly ones based in the U.S.,” WSJ reported.
The whole fake business should have/could have been figured out earlier. For a long time, we’ve worried about phony photoshopping, which was one of the first examples of technology’s ability to invent fake reality. Or whatever.
Now, we earnestly defend advertising content that is made to look like it’s not advertising content. It is, they say, effective.
Businesses have grown up around deception or at least less-than-full-truthfulness. Their partners are, for the most part, Web sites that have--or used to have--a good reputation. Maybe that will change when the noise of 2016 becomes the new policy of 2017.
“As a first step, they can reevaluate partnerships with content recommendation services,” writes Jessica Rovello, founder and CEO of Arkadium, a company that provides puzzles, games and interactive elements to some major news sites. She takes a swipe at some other companies in roughly the same space.
“As publisher revenue has flattened, more outlets have turned to content recommendation platforms, like Taboola and Outbrain. In fact, more than 80% of today’s top-50 news publishers use these services. Unfortunately, at least 30% of the content recommended is either misleading or fake. Publishers can help limit the scale of fake content by demanding stricter guidelines on the types of stories promoted on their pages,” she notes.
Well, they could. Places like Facebook and Google are now taking steps to stop fake news purveyors from posting there, a tall order given that even Donald Trump, regrettably the next guy in line in Washington, can’t bring himself to disavow them.
News organizations have been a little slow on the uptake. Snopes.com published “6 Quick Ways To Spot Fake News” last January, long before it seems major (real) news organizations seemed to be concerned about the infection.
FactCheck.org has existed since 2007, and in the recent post “How To Spot Fake News,” it gently pointed out that its first assignment was to run down a story in which its was claimed Rep. Nancy Pelosi, then the Speaker of the House, wanted an 100% tax on “windfall” stock profits--the proceeds to go to the “ ‘the 12 Million illegal immigrants and other unemployed minorities.’ ”
Not even close to being true.
Back then, FactCheck related: “We called it ‘a malicious fabrication’— that’s ‘fake news’ in today’s parlance.”
FactCheck’s trip down fake news memory lane added: “In 2008, we tried to get readers to rid their inboxes of this kind of garbage. We described a list of red flags — we called them Key Characteristics of Bogusness — that were clear tip-offs that a chain email wasn’t legitimate. Among them: an anonymous author; excessive exclamation points, capital letters and misspellings; entreaties that “This is NOT a hoax!”; and links to sourcing that does not support or completely contradicts the claims being made.”
Where was everybody else? Part of that answer is, “Making money off of false, misleading material” on the Internet.
That’s why, I’d repeat, “fake” is the word of the year. The result of fake may make 2017 the real year of “surreal. ” Or words far worse.
See you next Tuesday, when 2017 is already in progress. Happy New Year.