Fake News Is Dangerous For Brands – But What, If Anything, Is Being Done To Fight It?
Stephen McCance March 13, 2017
It has recently been revealed that a paltry 4% of UK adults can differentiate between a real news story and a fake one. So why exactly is this bad news for brands? And what, if anything at all, is being done to combat the alarming fake news phenomenon?
What is Fake News?
‘Fake news’ is a term that has been thrown around a lot in the press in recent months, not only in the business world, but in the political arena too. It supposedly had a big role to play in the U.S Presidential Election, and is something which has been causing a stir in the digital sector for some time now with ‘click bait’ in particular being an annoyingly common occurrence. Essentially, fake news is false information which has been deliberately circulated by websites or people who are intent on spreading their own agenda, or simply just wanting to mislead or confuse people. In traditional media, this wouldn’t be as possible as it is online, with sources compulsory for most journalists – but in a digital world, it only takes a matter of seconds to put whatever you want on the internet, which is exactly why this has become such a big issue.
Why is it a Danger to Brands?
Once a fake news story has been put onto a website, it only takes one person with a large following to share or like it on social media for thousands of people to see it. Similarly, it can be equally as destructive if many people share it around smaller groups of friends. Once this article starts to receive a large number of views it becomes increasingly difficult to stop the spread – whether the ‘news’ is factual or not. Many of these stories go on to appear in Google SERP’s when people search for the topic, meaning the article gets even more traction, and starts to be shared by even more people on social media.
Social media is one of the largest channels for people to communicate with their friends and family, and once people start to see their friend has shared a story which is a lie (unbeknown to them) word-of-mouth can make the story spread even further. When you also consider how influencer marketing on social media has become a key digital strategy for a number of brands, this only adds to the problem.
When somebody who has a big influence on social media shares a story which then turns out be to be fake, they instantly lose credibility. Not only can this have a big effect on them in terms of loss of followers, but it also has a knock-on effect for any brands they have been associated with as it makes them less trustworthy, and people less likely to respond to their posts. Why would a consumer trust the opinion of a person who shared a lie? Whilst this is an issue in terms of a decline in influencer marketing, there’s the more pressing issue that you could be impacted even if you don’t use that medium for promotion. With fake news not needing any grounding in fact, a ‘news’ story can easily get published which directly spreads bad information about a brand. This can be done maliciously by competitors, or by a disgruntled customer. Unfortunately, as these types of social media posts are designed to be shared, with dramatic and hugely inflated titles and content, it can be incredibly difficult to slow the spread, and even to find out the original source of the fake story, meaning there’s very rarely any comeuppance for the instigators.
The other big problem comes with adverts being placed on the websites which are promoting fake news. This can happen with banner adverts being placed on these websites, which may imply that the brand is supporting whatever rhetoric is being pushed out through the fake news story. As many display advertising and retargeting channels are opted into rather than strategically placed, it’s difficult to know when this might happen or prevent your ads from appearing on them.
What’s Being Done to Fight Fake News?
With this becoming such a big issue, Google and other media outlets have been forced to make changes to support brands. Back in November 2016, Google changed the policy on their ‘AdSense’ system, this is the system used when a web publisher wants to display advertising on its website. The changes meant that websites that have been known to display misrepresenting content would be unable to display any adverts with AdSense – which is great news for the brands wanting to advertise through the system, and bad news for phony publishers looking for gullible clickers.
However, this problem doesn’t tackle the issue with fake news still appearing in search results and being spread on social media. Facebook are the first social networking site to take a step towards tackling fake news by flagging fake stories as ‘disputed’. Articles considered to carry a risk of being fake will be marked with an exclamation mark, however, this doesn’t actually mark the article as being completely fake – so it can still mislead people, and those who are misled are not prevented or discouraged in any way from sharing it.
Google have taken a bigger step towards making sure people aren’t lost in the haze between what’s real and what’s fake by introducing the ability to ‘Fact-Check’ articles. This places a link at the top of the article which allows the reader to examine the claims made in the article and see if they are backed up by research conducted by over 100 universities.
Both of these changes have been helpful to the cause of quashing fake news stories, but it is still a big a problem as ever. The government have now taken steps to look into the issue, and this will be sure to aid and speed up the process of getting rid of fake news – but one thing is for certain: we certainly haven’t heard the last of the problem.
Article by Sujinder Tung, Search Marketing Executive