Cutting Off Ad Revenue To Fake News Sites May Not Solve The Problem

It's a generally understood fact that advertising makes the free media world go 'round. Without it, media outlets don't have much else to rely on for revenue as people mostly refuse to pay for what they feel they should get for free. If you want to hit a publisher where it hurts, you cut off the supply of ad revenue. And that seems to be the general tactic currently being used to combat (ie eliminate) fake news sites. Alas, according to a recent analysis, that approach may not work. 

Web analytics firm Mezzobit conducted an analysis of fake news sites culled from a list created by Elon University Professor Jonathan Albright who focuses on data journalism. For comparison to mainstream media, Mezzobit used Amazon's Alexa to compile a list of top news sites. 

The analysis found fake news sites to be "lighter" as in fewer on page elements, fewer cookies and fewer links to outside content. All of which yielded at least one good thing: faster page load times. And while advertisers are not shunning fake news sites the way they do porn sites -- because many ad networks allow fake news sites -- ad revenue is not a primary driver for fake news sites as it is for mainstream news sites. 



Mezzobit notes that those behind fake news sites do not have sophisticated ad platforms set up that help optimize revenue by selling ad space to the highest bidding advertisers. Rather they use basic platforms like Google and Facebook. Google and Facebook do, of course, in their own way, ban misrepresentative content from their networks but they don't catch everything according to Mezzobit.  

Mezzobit also found that many of these fake news operations are one person shops run by people who have motivations that are not financially focused and, therefore, cutting off their revenue stream nay, indeed, be irrelevant.  

Of the mindset behind operators of fake news site, Pasrons School of Design Professor of Media Design David Carroll said fake news sites, "can make money with just a small footprint" but that  "This is how propaganda operates. Propaganda is not a direct economic business. It’s politically motivated media practice.” 

Much like early personal blogs, fake news sites can be passion projects with motivations other than financial gain. It could be for shits and giggles. It could be politically motivated. It could be revenge-focused. Stunting ad revenue will likely have little effect on these motivating factors. The solution is more likely to come from filtering strategies which both Facebook and Google put into practice a couple months ago. 

Oh and a healthy dose of common sense, although it's clear that's a trait sorely lacking in most people today.

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