Although ‘fake news’ was brought to the forefront for the first time during the US presidential election campaign in 2016, its origin dates back to the Roman king Octavian who successfully created and ran a fake news campaign to malign and win over Marc Anthony during the Roman Republic decisive war. Since then, over the ages people have used fake news as a legitimized warfare technique, to secure presidential elections and even justify genocide.
Still, fake news circulation wasn’t as rampant earlier as it is these days. The low cost of publishing news through blogs and websites, the covetous audience waiting for sensationalized news and the lack of strong regulatory laws have contributed to the rise of fake news publications.
Who creates fake news and why?
There is no greater motivation than money in this world. And even as Google and Facebook are pledging their seriousness in removing fake news sites from their advertising and marketing networks, one cannot deny that the current programmatic advertising system is faultily designed. Google and Facebook cannot alone be held responsible.
Placing native ad widgets on fake news sites (known as clickbaits) through a simple process of a code installation is also another big way through which ad publishers make money for every click on paid links. The ads are made to appear like related-content suggestions and like the fake news website, they also often promote sensational marketing offers. As of now, irrespective of the steps taken by the internet giants, content advertising networks are the biggest source of funding and motivation for fake news sites.
When not for money, the other multifarious purposes for creating and distributing fake news is to make political gains or retain power. The US Presidential election 2016 is a terrific example of the same. The purpose of creating and spreading fake news is to emotionally persuade the audience to take a specific intended action. The influence of articles and news pieces inciting emotions of fear and insecurity on a vulnerable digital audience cannot be denied. The fake news may not be the only factor, but its effect on major political events including the UK and the French general elections in 2017 cannot be sidelined. Politicians hire digital marketing consultants to enhance their political image, spread their good word and sometimes even malign a competitor. Fake news has a big part to play in this.
Who does the responsibility lie with?
Some of the top and most hilarious fake news in recent times include the story of Prince Harry’s secret wedding, Pope Francis’s endorsement of Donald Trump as US President, WikiLeaks confirming Hillary Clinton’s selling weapons to ISIS and George Osborne launching his own fashion line.
Journalists are under tremendous pressure to churn out news at an unimaginable speed. It is easier to reproduce news than to source it firsthand. There have been several cases of fake news being reproduced by major newspaper and television network only to retract them later causing them much embarrassment and loss of reader trust.
Often it is difficult to get to the source of a viral news piece since it is shared and duplicated at several places without prior authentication. Also, with the amount of information floating digitally, the audience contributing to making it viral are also equally guilty. They take the news on its face value (sensationalized headlines) and sharing it without having read it thoroughly. In fact, some of the websites mentioned earlier in this article clearly identify themselves as satirical or humor sites. Instead of taking them for what they are, they are circulated as serious news, causing much distress to those who are the news. The ones creating the fake news are as responsible as the ones sharing it.
Countering fake news
Digital media literacy and audience awareness is most important to counter fake news. Some of the websites which are popular as fake/hoax news or as clickbaits include The Onion, American News, The Borowitz Report, Natural News, Disclose TV, World Truth TV, InfoWars and Clickhole. If the source of a sensationalized news is any of these channels, it is bound to be untrue or intended to be funny and satirical.
To counter fake news, reputed media houses including The New York Times, The Atlantic, WNYC and Vanity Fair are now advertising against it. While the aim is definitely to advocate righteous journalism, it does help in adding subscriptions. A win-win situation.
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