Commentary

Is Fake News Done?

Remember fake news? Only a few months ago, the media world was up in arms about patently false stories that purported to be news. 

Now, however, the public has moved on. Facebook is clearly labeling stories that are “disputed” and tags news organizations behind trending topics. At this writing, marketers are more focused on YouTube’s lack of brand safety than fake news.
Though we’re not free of fake news yet, it is on its way out. Here’s why:

1. Consumers moved on to tackling real news they don’t like.

So far, the biggest uproar about brand placement after the election hasn’t been related to fake news but to real news. As of February, some 1,000 brands have pulled their ads from Breitbart, a controversial news organization that for many brands represents a bridge too far. That’s why a handful began blacklisting Breitbart from their programmatic buys.

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It’s a lot easier to blacklist certain controversial sites than it is to blacklist fake news sites. Controversial sites are generally well known. Fake news sites aren’t.

2. Consumers now understand programmatic.

Brands caught promoting fake news have gotten less press. Though the press has cited instances in which brand ads ran next to fake news content, three months after the height of the crisis, there has been little lasting damage. 

Those most exercised about the issue have gotten a quick education about the practice from The New York Times and others. 

As a result, activists now pressure marketers to scrutinize digital partners that actually place the ads. In the course of reexamining their programmatic buys, those brands might determine that the reach they thought they were getting was illusory anyway and reboot their programmatic buys to emphasize quality over quantity.

3. Ad tech firms have tackled the issue

Years of fighting fraud have given ad tech firms a leg up on fighting fake news. Ad tech firms are now adept at finding “tells” for fake sites ranging from lack of dates on the articles to dead links. Fighting fake news is a constant process, but as ad tech gets better at rooting out such sites, the rewards for fake publishers diminish.

The decline of fake news

Fake news’ high profile after the election has caused ad tech companies to up their game and the likes of Google and Facebook to take steps to avoid financing and promoting such content. Public pressure has also worked to make fake news a top concern for brands, which in turn are asking their ad tech partners to be more careful.

This means that, thankfully, fake news is on its way out. That doesn’t mean that it will be eradicated 100% — almost nothing can be on digital media. But it’s likely that in the future the influence of fake news will be a lot lower. That’s good news. Really.

4 comments about "Is Fake News Done?".
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  1. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 19, 2017 at 11:04 a.m.

    You drank the Kool Aide. 

  2. Jonathan Hutter from EMHS (Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems), April 19, 2017 at 11:09 a.m.

    I'm not following your train of thought at all. If it's easier to blacklist known, controversial news sites (you specifically mention Breitbart), how does that hurt fake news sites? Likewise, if brands aren't hurt by having their ads run on these fake news sites, how does that impact the viability and revenue of these sites? 

    Assuming fake news is not just a parasite on the news ecosystem in the name of cheap revenue, but a consciously malicious effort by certain agents (foreign or otherwise) to damage the political process or public discourse, the rewards are not in advertising revenue, but in the spread of the stories. So it's not as much about fooling ad tech (which can still be done), but fooling readers, which is very easily done. 

  3. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, April 19, 2017 at 1:02 p.m.

    Had the outcome been different (her not losing 37 states on Election Day) we would not likely even be thinking about fake news.

  4. John Grono from GAP Research replied, April 19, 2017 at 4:58 p.m.

    Douglas, I must admire your persistence.   And your gall to repeat the fake 37 states claim on an article about fake news.   All hail the king.

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