There has been a lot written today about Google’s new policy that prohibits fake news sites to use its ad software to promote stories. Facebook soon followed suit and said it would not “integrate or display ads in apps or sites containing content that is illegal, misleading or deceptive, which includes fake news.”
Fake news has been popular for some time. The Onion, for example, claims it is “the world’s leading news publication, offering highly acclaimed, universally revered coverage of breaking national, international, and local news events. Rising from its humble beginnings as a print newspaper in 1765, The Onion now enjoys a daily readership of 4.3 trillion and has grown into the single most powerful and influential organization in human history.” Obviously satirical.
The New Yorker’s Borowitz Report is described as “The news, reshuffled.” With recent headlines such as “Queen Offers to Restore British Rule Over United States” and “Trump Confirms That He Just Googled Obamacare,” it’s fairly easy to determine that Borowitz is using humor to talk about current issues.
Internet site, Sports Pickle, asserts that “Now more than ever, America needs some honesty in #journalism.” Clever article titles including “If Tim Tebow can heal the sick, why is he selfishly spending his time playing sports?” and “Derrick Rose sent to neurologist after saying Knicks are Super Bowl favorites” are meant to make people laugh.
But I digress. The recent decisions from Google and Facebook have nothing to do with shutting down satire, but everything to do with shutting down deception. Reuters noted that the measures were taken to prevent “purveyors of phony content” to make money through clicks and advertising. While this is a good start, fake news is still appearing in search results and news feeds. NBC News reported that according to the Pew Research Center, 62% of Americans get some news from social media.
An embellished story on Twitter about a man trying to buy a McDonald’s milkshake at 1 a.m. turned into international news according to The Guardian, which believes that the “phenomenon is largely a product of the increasing pressure in newsrooms that have had their resources slashed, then been recalibrated to care more about traffic figures.” Given the power of social media and the ability to share news, real or fake, with millions of people in a nanosecond, how can we be sure what we’re reading is valid, allowing us to form our own opinions versus being fed them? I’m not sure there’s a good answer, but a start is to consider the source and the content. Snopes also does a decent job of debunking fake news.
For those of us who communicate for a living, the idea of fake news (and again not the satirical kind) is distasteful, especially given how it can move markets, destroy a company’s reputation or cause divisiveness among friends, family and colleagues. In one such instance, a client of ours saw its stock price lose 10 percent on a fake news tweet about the company’s headquarters being raided by the FBI.
I commend Google and Facebook for taking a stand, but let’s hope that this is just the beginning.
— Laurie Berman, firstname.lastname@example.org