- Michael Seto
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The concept of fake news came to the forefront during last year’s contested US presidential campaign as numerous political stories containing made-up information surfaced on the internet.
With the existence of social media, such misinformation, designed to attract advertising dollars or promote a political cause, can be spread faster and further than ever before.
But fake news has implications far beyond the world of politics. Fact-checking and sourcing become even more important for legacy media conglomerates, while social-media platforms are increasingly under fire for the content that gets published on their platforms. Brands also have to be more careful with where they spend their ad dollars as fears creep in that their ads can appear on the wrong story.
During the run-up to Election Day in the US, countless fake-news stories surfaced on social media, with some ultimately entering the national discourse. One widely circulated article falsely said the pope had endorsed Donald Trump, while another suggested senior Democratic Party officials were involved in a child-trafficking ring, a conspiracy known as “Pizzagate.”
It will never be known just how large of an impact these stories and others had on the election, but they were prevalent enough that countries across the globe have taken notice and have started taking action to combat fake news.
Last month, Germany approved a law under which social-media organizations could be heavily fined for failing to remove content classified as fake news or hate speech. Facebook has strongly disagreed with the law, arguing, “The draft law provides an incentive to delete content that is not clearly illegal when social networks face such a disproportionate threat of fines.”
Facebook’s response leads to an interesting discussion regarding what makes a news story “fake.” If 90% of the content in a report is accurate but one line is incorrect, should that invalidate the entire report? Is it a social-media organization’s responsibility to monitor every piece of content being shared on its platform and to judge the legitimacy of a given source?
The preponderance of potentially fake news stories has caused Madison Avenue to take notice. Many brands have growing concerns that their ads will be placed on fake-news stories, causing nearly one-third of programmatic advertisers to cut spending.
By cutting down on programmatic and focusing on more direct advertising, brands have more control over how and where their ads will appear, limiting the chances the brand appears next to dishonest news. Beyond that, the lack of ad revenue could cripple the sources of fake news to the point of shutting down.
‘Fake news’ discussion at IGNITION
Last year at IGNITION, Business Insider’s Josh Barro hosted a panel to discuss the fake-news epidemic. The panelists included The Onion’s CEO, Mike McAvoy; CNN correspondent Brian Stelter; and Washington Post columnist Margaret Sullivan. The group discussed a range of issues surrounding fake news ranging from who is creating it to how it can be contained and whether consumers care about the truth.
Stelter weighed in on the struggle defining fake news, saying, “This concept of fake news, the most basic version is just a story that is completely false, but it’s going to continue to get more sophisticated.” He continued with a story about himself: “Even just yesterday, a story about me that was fake – one paragraph was real quotes about me, and the next four paragraphs were fake quotes. So you couldn’t tell where the truth ended and where the lie began. And, frankly, it’s pretty hard to check.”
This panel took place just as the concept of fake news was hitting the mainstream. This topic is sure to be discussed again in detail at this year’s conference given all that has changed over the past six months, with some politicians appropriating the term in attempts to discredit legitimate media outlets as well. Even as the lines seem blurred, will new legislation and added awareness from media organizations and brands help put an end to fake news?
Find out at IGNITION 2017.
To learn more about the future of media, be sure to attend Business Insider’s IGNITION 2017!
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