Is it just my perception or is the fake news phenomenon not slowing down at all? When Facebook announced that it would weed out false reporting I was hopeful it would come to an end. Instead, the frequency of misleading sponsored posts on my timeline has increased and the phenomenon is getting deeper ingrained into our journalistic and even scientific culture. Let me tell you how.
Political aspects aside, fake news is mainly the result of the clickbait phenomenon and our society’s obsession with short-term financial gain. 21st century man is bombarded with information. To stand out, headlines need to be increasingly sensational to be clicked, and clicks equal advertising revenue.
When Facebook announced that it would actively ban false news and hoaxes, I was hopeful. In vain, it turns out. The first approach using ‘disputed flags’ didn’t work, so they decided to strike repeat offenders where it hurts and remove advertising rights. Extremely noble of a commercial enterprise.
Come 2018, Zuckerberg and company introduced the new algorithm, promising to improve the user experience and weeding out companies cluttering user’s news feeds. Even though it’s fair to state that this may have been motivated primarily to push companies toward paid advertising, it still sounded beneficial for the user base.
Zuckerberg’s wish for the audience to spend less time on his network might actually turn into reality a little too quickly. Advertisers are getting increasingly nervous over users spending less time on Facebook.
Is this why I am increasingly seeing blatantly hoaxed suggested and promoted content? Straight out lies and stolen trademarked news logos are everywhere. Is Facebook quickly grabbing the revenue it can get, thinking about the next earnings report and the stock price?
Not that Facebook is the sole culprit. The clickbait phenomenon is working its way down journalism and science as well. Take the much publicized ‘scientific’ conclusion that the first modern Britons had dark skin and blue eyes. Not only is this combination statistically highly improbable, it has been relatively well-accepted that the blue-eye mutation is more recent, making such a characteristic even more unlikely. While the initial announcement got plastered over virtually every news outlet in existence, doubts about the validity of this claim were deemed less click-worthy and did not warrant as much attention.
Is journalism quietly ditching fact-checking and research? It would appear so. So what is a journalists job evolving towards? Allow me to answer that question with a screenshot of tweets by a journalist for a major international news outlet.