The recent election cycle gave rise to media reports about ‘fake news,’ but they are reporting on a phenomenon that is growing at an alarming rate. Why is fake news becoming so widespread? The answer is simple: There’s money in it.
With a small investment, anyone can start an online media empire. Content marketing can bring in significant returns, and that has contributed to a rash of sites whose content is both tantalizing and utterly untrue.Content marketing can bring in significant returns.Click To Tweet
The media calls it fake news, and apparently there is money in online deception.
The Rise of Fake News
The Internet changed the nature of marketing. Publishers no longer need to work directly with advertisers to sell ads. Instead, publishers automatically place them across many publications simultaneously. The more content you have, the more ad space you can draw revenue from. All you need is a way to draw in as much traffic as possible, and that’s where fake news comes in.
Fake news tends to have salacious titles such as ‘5 Ways to Lose Weight Overnight’, or ‘Trump sells New Mexico to Canada,’ drawing traffic as people just have to find out what is in the article even if they doubt the title. It’s like throwing chum in shark-infested waters; it gathers a lot of attention and can bring scores of interested parties.
Ad tech firms check sites for illegal content, but checking for accuracy isn’t so high of a priority when they can bring in tens of thousands of dollars in income every month.
Fake News can be Lucrative
Let’s talk traffic:
In the final weeks of the 2016 Presidential Election, more than 100,000 users on Facebook liked or shared articles that implied that Tom Hanks had endorsed Donald J. Trump for president. The story was untrue, and it was a lie that made a lot of money off of the traffic that it garnered.
Advertisers are claiming to bear down on misinformation, but the fact remains that they are making a whole lot of money off of it, so their money is clearly not where their mouth is.
According to lifestyle blogger Andrew Wise, “Fake news sites probably perform as well as a real news website.” Wise stated that he would rather work with a business that prohibits false news, but it is a safe bet that everyone doesn’t share Wise’s sense of altruism.
Andrew Wise: “Fake news sites probably perform as well as a real news website.”
The continued existence of fake news shows that it works, and ad tech firms don’t have much reason to change that product if nobody is forcing them to. Advertisers, by nature, take advantage of human desires, so if sensationalism lures people into seeing their ads, then it makes little difference whether or not the content is verifiably correct.
Yellow journalism, then, may be around for some time yet. Ultimately, it is up to the user to discern if they are looking at fake news or not, and that means that we may be looking at how we educate people about the Internet and the information therein.