At the level of simple self-interest, Rothenberg pointed out: “There’s a linear connection between fake news and those trolls of digital marketing and media: click fraud, fraudulent non-human traffic, consumer data breaches, privacy violations, and the sources of ad-blocking.
"Each represents the failure of our supply chain – the same kind of supply chain failure we at IAB and our members have dealt with repeatedly and successfully over the years.”
However, Rothenberg then went beyond the business impact of fake news, alluding to the role of media in sustaining a democratic society: “If you do not seek to address fake news and the systems, processes, technologies, transactions and relationships that allow it to flourish, then you are consciously abdicating responsibility for its outcome – the depletion of the truth and trust that undergird democratic capitalism.”
Thus, he continued, “Eliminating fakery, fraudulence, and criminality from the digital ecosystem is the responsibility of all doing business within it.” In this case online media companies, “civic responsibilities overlap with their business obligations.”
In an impassioned conclusion, Rothenberg asserted: “Don’t tell me that it’s difficult. Don’t tell me that it will take a lot of time. Don’t tell me that it’s too complex to resolve quickly. In a multidimensional industry that can invest untold billions on driverless cars, Mars missions, Super Bowl ads, next season’s prime-time lineup and the acquisition of hot programmatic startups, surely we can fix fake news first.”
However, this is not a purely technical problem, as Rothenberg himself seemed to acknowledge.
Without naming names, he appeared to concede the existence of fake news is no accident, as it has played a role in a broader destabilization of factual discourse. “We have confronted the terrifying realization that facts and truth — and the time-honored processes for establishing them — can be turned into relativistic commodities, undermining the will of our citizenry and the ability of our leaders to make the world a better place.”
This wording hints at the place of fake news in a larger, deliberate campaign of disinformation. In other words, powerful interests — far beyond mere petty fraud artists — have brought about, and benefited from, the circulation of falsehoods online.
They are unlikely to quietly accept the elimination of this potent weapon.