Fake News Online- Has Online Marketing gone too Far?
As a company that works with the Internet and online entities, it’s fair to say that we know that the Internet is awash with pointless, incorrect and sometimes, if not all of the time, out right disingenuous information. People lie and for some reason they lie much more on the Internet that would be possible\accepted in the real world. This has always been the case. Since the days of chat rooms, to online markets and international news outlets (like huffington post), having to think twice, or six times, about trusting anything online is a universally recognised truth. Let’s be honest, we’ve all told a white lie, or exaggerated a fact but there is really a difference between saying “we offer the best SEO in the world” and manipulating information purposely to define the outcome of the US presidential election for example. My question is is online marketing going too far? What ways do we advertise and how can they impact us negatively on a day to day basis?
Fact or fiction
What drives this blog post is an article by Caitlin Dewery of the Washington Post which looks at the practice of ‘faux-articles’ and how they may have swayed the vote towards Trump. Since the outing of the impact these fake articles may have had in this years election, Facebook and Twitter are looking to take action against dishonest media outlets; and rightly so to be honest. With anything, I feel with great power, comes greater responsibility but the fact of the matter, is that these articles are often freelance and are not fact-checked like other, bigger media outlets. Basically, you shouldn’t have trusted them anyway. What is really interesting in this case is that these articles referenced in Dewery’s article are satirical and make no attempt to be factual. Are people starting to forget that not everything you read online is fact? To be frank, I think it just highlights how reliant and involved people are on social media and the world wide web in their day to day lives and sub-contiously absorbing information. Everything seems legit and it is very effective at shaping how we think and feel about the world around us.
I suppose (in defence of the believers) satire only works if you’re in on the joke, and somebody out there is bound to take flying pigs at face value. As online marketers, and SEO, we rely on good trustworthy content and articles to build websites around, generate interest and create links, but with all this fake information roaming about honest peeps trying to create genuine interest and spread positive information are undermined. What it’s doing is diluting the tone of content on the internet and alienating people that wish to utilise the Internet to its greatest potential. There never has been trust in online services but it is becoming more and more apparent that people are using the internet and social media as a source of information. As a general rule of thumb don’t forget that you shouldn’t trust everything a stranger says in real life, so don’t do the same on the web. Learn from a reliable, responsible and trusted source, think twice before think it is face and cross-reference with a couple of google searches.
‘Click-baiting’ marketers use that really gets my goat. Facebook in particular is bloody flooded when it comes to ‘click-bait’ websites/articles. We have all done it. We’ve all clicked on a link that says “MAN FOUND A GOAT ON A PLANE AND WHAT HAPPENED NEXT WILL SHOCK YOU…”, but when you click to find what unbelievable, life changing, goat orientated amazingness there is to find, you’re always disappointed when it turns out to be absolutely nothing. Like one of those pages that makes you trawl through reams of adverts to find what you want to see. This is actually a very good marketing trick if used subtly and if there is actually some good content on the other end of it, but after the seventh time you realised that you have wasted time you’ll never get back, it becomes a bit of a pain. We use a similar technique to make a post more interesting on social media but some marketers go ay over the top. For me, there is no point in selling something you don’t have and that is what click-baiting does.
Google has become very good at discrediting websites that do this type of spam marketing because it wants to find content that is genuinely interesting. For SEO google looks at something called the ‘bounce rate’ which is when somebody clicks onto the website and clicks right back off it. Google sees this as a brilliant insight to the quality of a because people generally click right back off a website they instantly don’t like or trust. We at SEO fife would class ourselves as ‘white hat’ and put a lot of time and effort into a website so google recognises its worth.
The Political Social Media Guru
In the grand scheme of things one article doesn’t make too many waves but, like what happened with brexit and the US election, and several news outlets run the story and it spirals out of all imagination. You can bundle into any social media and find a story that isn’t real. Politics is the perfect example breeding ground for misinformation, spin and misdirection to gain popularity and make your party seem he most attractive to your audience, if you apply the same thinking to a selling business, blogger or seller of ideas, you get the point, and social media is riddled with fiction made out to be fact. A good example of this is ‘Wings above Scotland’- whether or not you believe that independence is right or wrong for Scotland, the fact still remains that this twitter account is unimaginably bias and filled to the brim with propaganda. Don’t get me wrong, both sides are more than guilty of publishing/posting absolute nonsense, but ‘Wings over Scotland’ was recently barred which means I will be picking on it today. The page was called out more than a few times for posting ‘fact’ that were clearly opinion yet, it still became a popular source of information for pro-independence voters and one or two of the articles published reached headlines. What gets me is that the author of this twitter page lives in Bath, in England, not in Scotland, yet still captured the imagination of so many people. This kind of thing is happening with every social issue- people have opinions and can broadcast them with absolute ease on social media. Examples of this kind of manipulation of half truths is all over the place- Instagram is absolutely saturated with it.
Social media is defiantly taking over the way we engage with other people and their opinions- for some reason, it makes what they are saying more legit and allows like minded people to reassure their ideas. Whether these ideas are right and wrong, we fall into a bit of a bubble where our ideas are not challenged and are constantly more polarised and hardened. There is a sense of ‘absolute authority’ in opinion and its traction is somehow seeping into the real world.
Google’s core values puts them in the forefront of trying to find the best content and websites for the searcher. It takes a lot of data looking at your search history, your location, best quality sites and regular website visits makes up the sites and articles you see. This works exactly the same in social media like Facebook. Based on your likes, friendships groups and activity Facebook advertises articles and posts that would be the best for your interest. It makes absolute sense to a marketer, and consumer, because you’re making it easier to target an audience and for that audience to buy what they need. On the downside (always a negative nelly), what it creates is a bit of a media bubble, where you only see article that are overly weighted to your opinion; it sounds good but it voids people a variety of sources and opinions. The type of variety that builds a balanced point of view and educated opinion. It’s quite easy to fall into a bubble of hate and short sighted ideological political propaganda where no matter how hard you could beat somebody with a stick it wouldn’t change their mind because, in their mind, it is absolutely fact. So, it is quite easy to see somebody unconditionally agreeing with an absurd lie that has been torn down with countless reputable sources (a little bit like 350 million for the NHS).
Without searching too hard its clear to see there has been a big increase of online abuse, hatred and counter hatred, political engineering and deliberate misinformation on the web and it is starting to creep ever more into our real lives. What we are looking at in general is a polarisation of ideas, a hardening of beliefs and a bubbling of core values on the internet and it is reflecting upon our decisions and opinions in our daly lives. We are almost going back to the days when there was so little media that we only really had access to one opinion. Now we have access to a wealth of information, online marketing is starting to tunnel us into a concentrated group; we are being sold what we are most likely to buy but the whole point of the freedom on the internet is to get access to all the options.
Anyway, let me get off my high horse because there are so many benefits to the ways in which we market online. It is easer than ever to buy a very rare whiskey, or find out how to fix your computer. We know the value of online marketing but there aren’t so many people looking at the cons and how it can effect us negatively. Word to the wise- take everything with a pinch of salt. Even this.