The election, the celebrities we’ve lost, the grim crisis in Syria – 2016 has been a tough year to say the least, whatever your affiliations. But possibly the most divisive trend of all that has played heavily into our world views is the “post-truth” era that we’re all living in.
What does that mean? Well literally it is “an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Oxford Dictionaries named it their word of the year which comedian and late night host, Stephen Colbert, jokingly takes credit.
In real talk, it’s probably best understood as those far-from-the-truth claims from candidates and fake news sites touting click bait headlines on Facebook. It reminds me of the stories of yellow journalism I learned about in college. Just look at the success of these fake news stories about the election measured by the BuzzSumo chart below.
So how did we get here?
As a society, we’ve swapped our New York Times subscription for our Facebook newsfeed. We’ve traded in-depth exposés for “listicles” and The New Yorker for the theSkimm. Even Reader’s Digest has became too much of a commitment.
It’s our general lack of knowledge or willingness to get the details that has given rise to fake news sites, because we’ve forgotten the age old adage: don’t believe everything you hear. We’ve let them thrive via our social shares and comments because we take things at face value.
But guess what? Fake news isn’t new. For as long as there has been internet, there’s been people with opinions stating them as fact.
What’s new is how we perceive content these days – if it’s polished enough, we’ll believe it. The problem with these fake news sites is that it’s all flash and no substance.
So who can we blame? There’s got to be someone.
In the past, we could have pointed the finger at marketers – the people like myself, who knew how to spin a good story. The people who knew how to position their brands in the very best light, despite the dark shadows.
But this time, that’s not the case. The story has shifted and the pendulum has swung back to where brands (and their marketers) may become the beacons of truth.
I know what you’re thinking…. it’s too much, it’s not true, but hear me out. Marketers have become the watch dogs against these fake news sites because we have a lot to lose.
David Berkowitz, the Chief Strategy Officer at Sysomos, wrote in AdWeek that “the difference between the political sphere and the advertising sphere is that in advertising, losing trust does have consequences.”
What he means is that as marketers and stewards for our brands, our clients trust us to deliver accurate reporting, not tainted by inflated fake users or metrics. It means that our brand ad dollars should never be used to support fake news sites.
We are demanding more transparency from our ad partners and calling on third-party reporting to validate the metrics we receive, so that we can 100% say to our brand partners that their content is not based on fake news sites.
So what do you think? Is it too crazy to believe that marketers could help to rid the world of these fake news sites? I’d hope not given that a good number of people actually believed the Pope endorsed Donald Trump. (He didn’t).