This week Facebook faced significant criticism over its role in the US election. Specifically for allowing and promoting fake stories as real and credible news stories. But Facebook wasn’t the online “media” outlet facing criticism, CNN was accused of giving one candidate too much exposure and Google’s own CEO admitted fake news stories may have impacted the results of the election.
As a result both Google and Facebook have decided to take action and restricts fake news stories. Nonetheless Reuters is now reporting that “Facebook’s steps are limited to its ad policies, and do not target fake news sites shared by users on their news feeds”. Therefore they are only eliminating any financial incentive to publish fake stories. All the fake news stories shared by users on their networks will continue to move through the vast social network without any restrictions. In a similar move Google will not be addressing the fake news stories that appear in Google search results.
It is no secret that the uproar over the results of the last election has forced Google and Facebook to take measures and re-evaluate how they treat fake news. Perhaps instead of banning or restricting only the financial incentive to advertise or promote these stories they should consider using real and clear disclaimers so that the reader is fully aware that the story is fake, a hoax or meant in an ironic way.
The real issue media is facing worldwide, and has been facing for a while now, is that the line that separated editorial news from advertising is now completely blurred. Native Advertising is usually an article or video produced by an advertiser with the specific intent to promote a product, while matching the form and style which would otherwise be seen in the work of the platform’s editorial staff. This form of advertising has taken over the internet and is the only advertising that is financially viable for news outlets. We live in a world where “clicks” are king and drive advertising. Just like native advertising fake news stories are much more likely to get more clicks because they are more inventive and funny. They can also be controversial and contentious which will no doubt lead to more sharing, clicking and commenting.
Real, fact checked news often doesn’t have the same appeal and therefore will not have the same level of engagement, so the incentive to write editorial pieces almost but disappears.
A few years ago comedian John Oliver dedicated a segment of his show Last Week Tonight to Native Advertising. He was right to expose the consequences that we would face if we erased the line that separated editorial news from Advertising. Because now in 2016 we are seeing these consequences materialize. So much so that the media itself has started to questions its practices from within. This is why Facebook, Google, CNN and others are re-evaluating the stance in regards to fake news stories, because there is no clear line or boundary that separates what is true from was is fake and there are certain moments or times when we need to know the truth, above all else.