Who’s Talking About Fake News?

Read Time: 7 minutes

You may have noticed in the past few weeks that ‘Fake News’ has been making headlines. Pushed to the forefront by the recent US election, people are talking about it as a potentially major force of real world influence. Google and Facebook are being called upon to come up with a solution, but not just because they’re driving traffic. They’re providing the incentive for the views. So, it’s time we step back and look at how we got here. Let’s ask the basic question: What is fake news, and how did Ad Ops get involved?

Fake News?

To start, the term ‘fake news’ is having a bit of an identity crisis. Is The Onion fake news? What about National Enquirer? Or Janet Cooke?  Depending upon how you look at it, they are all a kind of fake news, but the style we’re talking about today is the semi-true stuff, the kind of news that bends the facts a bit and misattributes quotes, telling people what they want to hear with the intent to drive traffic. Think “Pope endorses Trump” or “Kanye Dumps Kim”. It’s all digital, and there are hundreds of websites, Facebook pages, and Twitter accounts dedicated to it. Articles designed to be click bait in order to ‘go viral’ and generate traffic.

Fake news is getting lots of attention because people are saying it influenced the US election, but the problem isn’t unique to politics. Celebrity, fashion, health, sports; really any vertical has a fake news problem, and this has been the case for years. It’s just now that it’s starting to be picked up and talked about, especially as it bleeds into the read world (like the recent conspiracy-theory motivated shooting in Washington). But where does it come from? And why do people spend so much time and effort creating it?

The Internet Runs On It

The simple answer is money. As reported by Buzzfeed, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, the people behind the majority of fake news are just out to get a quick buck. It’s simply a coincidence that the US election happened to correlate with an increase in tech knowledge, and that articles about Donald Trump generated more traffic (and money) than those about Hillary Clinton. Fake news didn’t generate interest in Donald Trump, it exploited it.

Which is how we get to why fake news is important to us (and why Digiday has been covering it extensively). Advertising funds fake news, and people are starting to make the connection.

Shortly after the US election, traditional news companies and politicians began to call upon Google and Facebook to acknowledge fake news as a problem and to tighten their policies in regards to it. During the election, Facebook was the primary source of traffic for fake news websites, and Google generally provided the ads (together with retargeting/native advertising agencies). After a bit of silence, Google stated they would change their policies. Facebook followed suit, as well as a few ad tech companies (such as DoubleVerify) launching services to counter fake news websites. However, Google and Facebook’s policies haven’t really impacted anything yet, and due to the nature of Google’s technology, it will probably be awhile before anything drastic happens.

Which is where we sit right now. Fake news has been acknowledged as a legitimate problem, and a solution is going to be more complicated than simply Google or Appnexus blacklisting websites. We haven’t heard the last of it, and it’ll be worth watching how it develops in the coming months.

Liam Workman

Liam is an account manager and blog king at SparkLit, the SaaS company behind AdButler and FourEyes. He loves rock climbing, hiking, coding, and being your friend.