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Incestuous relations between fake news and advertising

The fake news generates a lot of traffic and therefore income, an organized business very juicy! This is the new scourge of the online press, social networks and even the political world. The fake news, or false news in good English, abound on the Internet and are widely relayed by the social networks.

Recent initiatives launched by Facebook are still struggling to cope with this mass phenomenon. To fight effectively against fake news, it is necessary to understand why they exist and how they spread.

If we look only at the level of intentions, we know that different states, parties, currents, pressure groups may have an interest in creating false news to influence public opinion. It is as old as the world and we can classify these manipulations of information in what is commonly called soft power.

Advertising at the heart of the mechanism
These clients therefore call on agencies specializing in the creation of false news. According to experts, there are tens of thousands of sites producing false information in the world! This false news is then launched and relayed massively by their creators, aided by robots on social networks, mainly on Facebook and Twitter. Mass propaganda, industrialized and robotized.

Then, it’s the snowball effect, because each of us relays, often unknowingly, these lies. As human beings trust their loved ones more than the media, a fake news of a dubious site relayed by a loved one is always more credible to us than a real news, published by a known site. If money is the nerve of war, advertising is the nerve of the Internet. Indeed, most websites are largely funded by online advertising. And the more audience, the more money they earn.

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If trains arriving on time are not information for the media, trains that cross the North Pole through Donald Trump will instead generate much more commitment on Facebook than real news, good or bad. The fake news therefore generates a lot of traffic and therefore income.

This sharpens the appetites all around the world and some have made lying organized a very juicy business. For example, the sulphurous Paul Horner, an American past master of the fake news, who knows very well what information can become a true “click magnet on the Internet”. For example, it has attracted close to one million Internet users by running an article claiming that the Pope supported Donald Trump.

This false news maker earns between $5,000 and $10,000 per month in advertising revenue through its various hoax and false news sites. And thousands of kilometres away, in a small village of the Republic of Macedonia, young geeks looking for easy income producing also the fake news on an industrial scale. Faced with this phenomenon, numerous initiatives are emerging to counter the spread of these lies in series. More and more advertisers want to reduce their investments in platforms that do not filter fake news because they do not want to associate their brand with these sites and because the users’ commitment to the ads on these sites is less good.

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For its part, Facebook has put online and widely disseminated a tutorial that explains the ten rules to follow to detect fake news. Very well done but a bit laborious for Mrs P, who will continue to click on information relayed by her little niece.

On the other hand, these large American platforms are starting to invest in tools to detect fake news like Decodex, set up by the world and think about financing the work of journalists to make this sort a little tedious. But this system has its limits. As a result, the dissemination platform and the media become economically linked, posing other ethical problems. In addition, a group of American activists, called the Sleeping Giants, publicly encourage companies to withdraw advertisements from sites that broadcast fake news. A public online denunciation that has helped raise awareness of more than 1,400 large companies. But this is not enough.

The ultimate parade of fact-finding tools?
It is illusory to think that journalists will be able to continue to track down all the fake news produced by thousands of sites that often earn much more than they produce and disseminate lies. It is therefore necessary to rely on independent tools specialized in fact checking, which use artificial intelligence, automatic language processing and big data to identify fake news on a large scale.

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