Mainstream Media is Fake News Sometimes. In this recent series of posts we’ve been discussing how social media and search engines work. By understanding the mechanics of these tools we can both be better informed and be better informers. In the last post we discussed how Google is not in the truth business. They’re in the business of providing the answer they think you want based on your browsing history and on advertising dollars from groups looking for your attention. This is important in today’s lexicon where many internet users equate truth with Google; i.e., “Just Google it.”
And while Google is no saint in the truth business, mainstream media are often just as guilty. When I was in broadcast programming we had separate terms for content including news, promotional announcements, public service announcements, and advertisements. But not every viewer or listener distinguishes between the different types of content. As an industry insider we knew what they meant but the average consumer couldn’t always distinguish between a public service announcement, a promotional announcement, or an advertisement. For mainstream media websites the same is true.
One way that mainstream media websites use third party content to generate ‘eyeballs’ and ‘clicks’ is through ‘click bait’ or content intended to ‘bait’ the user to click. There are several services that provide this type of content including Outbrain and Taboola. If you visit news sites like USA Today online and scroll down the page you will see one of these Taboola feeds. The content is curated by Taboola and then a portion of the revenue generated by the clicks goes to USA Today. But to the casual online visitor they may not even see the Taboola name or understand what the words Sponsored Content mean. To that end mainstream media is fake news sometimes.
When I was in the media it was important that we always checked and rechecked our sources. Today with the growth of social media where average uneducated users don’t check sources and misconceptions like, “the truth shows up when you search on Google” or, “I read it on USA Today” combine to confuse consumers as to the difference between news and facts versus hyperbole and opinion. The war with the truth is fundamentally in conflict with online advertising dollars that are driving clicks. Think of these headlines for instance:
- Maserati Ghibli test drive.
- Maserati test drive ends in fireball.
Together with an accompanying image or video you can see which message will drive more views and clicks. So what’s the point here? If mainstream media is fake news sometimes how does that relate to your business posts? Here are some tips:
- To be respected your posts must be honest.
- Your sources need to be checked, verified, and credited.
- Your posts need to be optimized for search engines without attempting to game the system.
- You need to post compelling content often.
Too often our work as content marketers is judged by the sheer number of visitors to the website, subscribers to the newsletter, and followers on social media. And while those numbers are important, it’s the type of people you’re trying to reach that matters. One construction client’s website is visited 3,000 times per month and has a modest number of email subscribers. But they’re in a highly specialized market serving a specific set of products and services to a finite number of professionals. In the first eight months of the agreement the client was beginning to have second thoughts about our approach. Then we fielded an email request for information from a senior engineer at the largest global construction firm in the world. In this case we didn’t use ‘click bait’ or sensationalist headlines to drive views. We used industry information optimized for search engines, to educate and inform the target audience, to build trust with the prospect that the client is the authority in the field, to generate a lead.
In this series of posts we’ve discussed how Google is not in the truth business and often does not provide you with the correct answer to your question and now how mainstream media is guilty of presenting fake news as real. In future posts we’ll discuss how:
- Social media networks are as just as essential to freedom as they are a danger to democracy.
- Real news is out there, although not as shocking and sensationalist as what we are viewing.
- You can champion real news sources and you can be real news.