Radical Honesty: The Only Way Forward

This past weekend Elizabeth Warren reminded us you can’t believe what you read or see. The presidential candidate, hoping to draw attention to Facebook’s decision not to censure paid political ads, purchased and ran a blatantly false ad on the social media platform. The ad intentionally featured misinformation, saying, “Breaking news: Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook just endorsed Donald Trump for reelection.”

More than 80% of Americans now get their news from online sources and almost 70% get news from social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter. Some of the most popular news sources do not consider themselves part of the media. These sources will not take responsibility for distributing factual content and as a result we have a believability crisis in America. 

I fully understand the complicated role platforms face when attempting to police content. This issue requires serious discussions on First Amendment protections, especially around the intent of our founders when this amendment was written. But be that as it may, advertisers are facing a real problem in selecting believable environments to reach their customers. If no one trusts the media, why should anyone trust what appears in the media? If the lake is polluted, why would you eat the fish?



Context used to mean a thing or two. Context--where an ad appeared--helped us understand a brand relative to other brands, including its values. But that assumed that a consumer believed what appeared around the ad. If a brand advertised in Vogue, the brand was fashionable. If it advertised in The Wall Street Journal, the brand must know something about money and finance. 

But today if a brand advertises in a place where everything is a lie, what does that say about the brand? If everything else on the platform isn’t true, why should a consumer believe the brand, especially if the brand is trying to communicate something new that might elicit skepticism. 

As we move closer to the election and our bullshit meters become even more sensitive, there is only one thing a brand can do--become radically honest. Radical honesty is the only thing that will break through the crisis of believability. 

If a brand message is not consistently radically honest the brand will suffer the wrong “borrowed interest.” Instead of being considered premium, the brand risks being discarded and bucketed with all the other lies consumers come across in their day-to-day internet browsing. 

One group, however, will gain from the believability crisis; that’s a small group of publishers. Those publishers that fact check and take responsibility for all the content that appears on their platforms and sites will benefit, because brands will pay a premium for the truth.

1 comment about "Radical Honesty: The Only Way Forward".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, October 16, 2019 at 7:38 p.m.

    Barry, I agree with  you and Warren's little ploy was great. One thing, however. Social media garners a fair amount of usage, however, it's not where 80% of Americans get "their news". Rather it's where 80% of Americans get something that many consider "news"---mainly not the same kind of news they get from the broadcast TV networks or stations and the 24/7 cable channels.

    I believe that social media must be prodded or, eventually , coerced into accepting responsibility for what they allow to appear on their platforms and that obvious falsehoods must be curbed, somehow. But this needs great care or new types of abuses may develop with social media platforms dominated by one political viewpoint censoring posts by those favoring the opposing viewpoint---under the guise of keeping things "honest". I also doubt that advertisers, with their many diverse interests, can be expected to band together to curb false or dishonjest "news" by boycotting the offending platforms. More likely some sort of governmental regulation is needed---but that, too, can cause problems of a political as well as a bureaucratical nature. It's a very tough nut to crack.

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