True or false: The growing impact of fake news

Sendt av: Print Power 19/07/2017

At a time when online channels are losing credibility thanks to an onslaught of fake news, print is playing a vital role in restoring the public’s faith in the media and giving brands the elusive ‘trust’ factor.

Article taken from Print Power Magazine Issue 13
Author: Johnny Sharp

Call it ‘alternative facts’, call it ‘post-truth’, call it ‘fake news’ or just call it lies. However you choose to describe it, the rise of misleading, questionable or just plain false stories spread via digital media is having a growing impact on our lives. 

The phenomenon has been credited with swaying the UK’s Brexit vote last year and helping Donald Trump win the US election a few months later. The Netherlands has just re-elected Prime Minister Mark Rutte despite a number of dubious stories circulating on social media, while Germany, Italy, Norway, Hungary, Serbia and Slovenia all have elections scheduled in the coming 12 months. In each case, as those campaigns intensify, the internet will inevitably be swamped with opinion and counter-opinion, backed up with ‘facts’ and ‘news’ stories, some of which on closer inspection may prove to be nothing of the sort. 

So why is this a problem for brands? Well, if your brand wants its communications to be taken seriously, do you really want to run the risk of being associated with dubious websites, discredited news stories and unsavoury propaganda? In March of this year, WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell, writing in the UK’s Daily Telegraph, pointed out the opportunity this offers for traditional media: “As Google, Facebook, Twitter and others face accusations of giving a platform to hatred and fake news, and even of swinging elections, distrust in information shared on social media ought to increase public appetite for more traditional, reliable news providers.” 

The trust factor
It may come as no surprise to discover that trust in the media has declined sharply over the past year. According to the recently published Edelman Trust Barometer1, trust in the media fell by 5% between their 2016 and 2017 surveys, more than any other institution. In Europe, only in The Netherlands did more than half the respondents express trust in the media.

Nonetheless, the same survey still found that 57% trusted traditional media for ‘news and information’, compared to 51% trusting online-only media and just 41% social media.

Elsewhere, other studies have shown that some forms of media are trusted more than others. A Europe-wide survey conducted last year by the European Broadcasting Union found that across the EU, 43% of those surveyed ‘tended to trust’ the printed press, compared to 35% for the internet and just 20% for social media. Furthermore, trust in the printing press was up by 1% over a five-year period, while faith in information gleaned from the internet and social media had decreased by eight points.2 

A Nielsen survey found that ads in magazines and newspapers were still trusted by more than 50% of those surveyed, compared to 38% for search engine ads and 34% for social network ads 

Not all publicity is good
Disinformation has been shown to be effective in promoting certain agendas, particularly online and via social media, where a false or misleading story can ‘go viral’ and be repeated thousands of times without being challenged. 

Giovanni Zagni, a senior analyst at Pagella Politica, the Italian fact-checking website, believes that shrewd marketers will quickly wake up to the need to steer clear of any associations with disreputable information sources. “For a business there is nothing worse than bad publicity,” he says, “so they should act soon to be disassociated with dubious media outlets. I’m sure the advertising industry will be quick to comply.” When a string of unsubstantiated news stories appeared on the right-wing US news website Breitbart, Kellogg’s were among several brands to pull their advertising from the site after customers complained that they were effectively funding fake news. The brand explained that they wanted “to ensure our ads do not appear on sites that aren’t aligned with our values as a company”.

But it’s not always that easy to avoid these associations. Samuel Laurent, editor of fact-checking department Les Decodeurs at French newspaper Le Monde, feels that the rise of ‘clickbait’ means unreliable online news sources are never very far away. There’s a big temptation for advertisers to jump on board with such eye-catching content and the impressive numbers of page views it can boast without considering the negative impact it can have. “With the internet, everyone is a publisher,” Laurent explains. “You just have to run your blog or Facebook account or YouTube content and you’re on there. Advertisers want clicks on their links but they might run alongside clickbait that’s actually fake news. You can’t expect people to trust you in the long term if you’re selling your credibility to just anyone.”

“The limitation of space in a print publication is a guarantee that a minimum critical judgement is made in order to choose what goes in there.” Giovanni Zagni, Senior Analyst at Pagella Politica

Slave to the algorithm
One problem is that ads online are often placed by a computer algorithm, which looks for keywords when deciding where to place advertising. However, it doesn’t always have an eye for the all-important context of an ad, and that can sometimes make advertisers look insensitive or worse, plain ridiculous. British satirical magazine Private Eye now runs a regular column called ‘Malgorithms’, which points out examples where online ads have been placed in unfortunate and unadvantageous positions. Take this Yahoo News headline: “Business drivers risking safety by not taking breaks”. The ad placed next to it? “Brilliant funeral insurance sweeping the UK”. Or from Wales Online: “Two Men Killed In Microlight Aircraft Crash” next to an ad reading: “Fly Cardiff To Anglesey With Van Air Europe.”

Innocent mistakes perhaps, but a recent investigation by UK newspaper The Times showed a more worrying trend. It found that ‘programmatic advertising’ software had led to major brands having adverts placed on politically extremist and pornographic sites3. On YouTube, for instance, an advert for the new Mercedes E-Class saloon runs next to a pro-Isis video that’s been viewed more than 115,000 times, while the luxury holiday brand Sandals Resorts is advertised next to a video promoting al-Shabaab, an African jihadist group linked to al-Qaeda. Increasingly, marketers are expressing concern with the lack of control or transparency involved in online advertising. Procter & Gamble’s chief brand officer Marc Pritchard labelled the online media supply chain “murky at best and fraudulent at worst”. 

Do you know where your ads are?
Of course, there have been calls for more controls over which stories and links are placed where online, but do the digital media giants really have the motivation to change anything while the revenue is still rolling in? “The people that really have the power to stop it are Facebook, Twitter and Google,” says Laurent. “But I’m not sure they really want to do much about it. They make some efforts but don’t touch the core of the business, the algorithm, which is putting blogs or opinions in the same place as you expect to find news and presenting them as facts rather than opinions.” The result is that your commercial messages could end up anywhere.
“Automated buys really chase the audience and not necessarily the context,” John Montgomery, Brand Safety Vice President at top US media buyer GroupM told Wired recently. “You have to be able to count on your ad tech partners to maintain some kind of marketplace quality,” AppNexus Communications VP Josh Zeitz said recently. “Because if it’s completely unregulated, your client’s ads could show up anywhere.” Of course, there are no guarantees that this can’t occasionally happen in print media, but in survey after survey, advertising in print is consistently shown to be more trusted by the public across the globe than its digital equivalent.

A Nielsen survey last year found that ads in magazines and newspapers in the UK were still trusted by more than 50% of those surveyed, whereas search engine ad results gained only 38% trust and social network ads only 34%4. An even bigger difference was found in a German study for Gesellschaft Public Relations Agenturen (GPRA), who found that 54% trusted newspaper and magazine ads compared to just 16% for advertising on websites5. 

The opportunity for print
With an avalanche of bad publicity surrounding fake news, herein lies an opportunity for print news outlets, believes Giovanni Zagni. “I work in digital media but I actually think there is an opportunity for the print media to re-establish themselves as a stronger and more reliable voice,” he says. “On the internet, there is literally everything from the very best of information to the pure rubbish. The limitation of space in a print publication is a guarantee that a minimum critical judgement is made in order to choose what goes in there.” The checks and balances built into the print model of news publishing, particularly at the higher end of the market, means that a human – usually several – will always be on hand not only to fact-check but also proofread and oversee the final product, meaning fake news and unsavoury views are much less likely to see the light of day.

Meanwhile, the news they do publish still gets an infinitely larger readership than it can command online. Chris Duncan, Chief Customer Officer at News UK, recently pointed out that, “A news story on Facebook typically peaks at around 60,000 readers, but 4.5 million people picked up The Sun to read about Theresa May becoming the new Prime Minister.”

The facts of life
At a time when fake news is a phrase on everybody’s lips, some brands have already been quick to associate themselves with the authentic side of the media. Cosmetics brand Dove recently mocked the Trump administration’s reliance on ‘alternative facts’ in a newspaper ad full of their own ‘alternative facts’, such as “New Dove antiperspirant increases your IQ by 40 points”. Then on the opposite page, their actual message ran: “New Dove antiperspirant cares for your underarm skin like never before. #RealFacts”.

“Brands live in a world of accountability,” said Ogilvy and Mather Worldwide chief creative officer and co-chairman Tham Khai Meng. “And that’s a good thing. To see one respond so swiftly with an #AlternativeFact moment, done gently and with a smile, reminds us of that.” The Reuters Institute’s recently published study, Journalism, Media, and Technology Trends And Predictions 2017 found that 70% of them believe that the rise of fake news will strengthen the position of quality publishers6. 

For quality publishing, read print publishing. Because the motto of quality publishing is still ‘All the news that’s fit to print’. And if it’s unfit to print, it doesn’t just drift off into cyberspace to pollute the internet, it’s consigned to the waste paper basket of history – where it belongs.

“Brands live in a world of accountability. And that’s a good thing. To see one respond so swiftly with an #AlternativeFact moment reminds us of that”
Tham Khai Meng, Ogilvy and Mather Worldwide chief creative officer and co-chairman

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