What does fake news actually mean for digital marketers?

Fake news. Everyone’s talking about it and you may have noticed that we have before too, but that was way back in February, so we reckoned it was worth revisiting. Since then it’s safe to say that fake news has taken on a whole different meaning, a heightened sense of seriousness and, of course, has become the catchphrase for one public figure who is consistently topping the headlines. But rather than just speculating what effect fake news might have in general, we’re going to delve into what fake news means for digital, why it’s such a big deal, and what you can do to protect and deflect it.

So what’s the big deal?

As we’ve talked about this before we’re not going to go into detail about what fake news actually is. It’s pretty self-explanatory, but it’s something which has been causing those in digital marketing a whole host of problems. From fake news sources gaining money from ads on their site to brands pulling advertising after being associated with these sources. It’s clear that fake news is affecting brand and market growth. Over the past few months, several news pieces have certainly brought this to light through emphasizing the danger fake news poses and exposing the potential it has to evolve into something altogether more alarming.

A tale of caution

Technology is making it easier to produce fake news which spans far beyond a misleading headline. We now face a more advanced threat: fake video content.

First of all, we have Adobe’s VoCO software. This was exhibited at Adobe MAX 2016 but has since been considered as an addition to the standard Adobe Suite. With just 40 minutes of voice recording, it figures out all of the phonetics of your speech, the sounds you make, and the different ways in which you say them. It then chops them all up into separate elements which can effectively be combined to produce any new word, phrase or sentence – word perfect. Its speech synthesis is verging on being completely indistinguishable from a real human’s voice – being dubbed the ‘Photoshop of audio’.

The second half of this is the story of facial reenactment software. Most of us will be aware of the use of this in the film industry – placing sensors on actors faces to bring animated characters to life (think Buzz Lightyear or Avatar). But now, there are companies developing software which not only maps these movements onto an animated character but onto a real human face. Face2Face is one such piece of software with real-time face capture which can be used to manipulate recorded video clips. Effectively, it’s a form of puppetry which allows people to physically manipulate a video of a human face to move in any way you wish.

These two technologies combined, paired with the speed at which content and news can travel online make for some pretty terrifying prospects. Think about it, you could, in theory, create a video of any politician saying anything you want, any celebrity incriminated with a single cleverly edited video, or even use it to personally attack someone. With platforms such as YouTube making it easy to host videos, and social media making it a doddle to share them across the whole world in seconds, the amount of potential damage is huge.

We’re losing trust

We have good reason to be suspect of every news piece we see online, and it’s starting to show. The BBC recently reported on the latest ABC figures which showed an increased number of us investing in quality news titles such as The Economist and The Spectator. As readers, it seems we are actively seeking reliable information from sources we know and believe to be trustworthy, rather than relying on the often inaccurate news we find online.

It’s fair to say that every one of us takes anything we read online with a pinch of salt. Perhaps the realness of the printed word is reassuring to those of us who lack faith in online sources which may have been tampered with by some description.

Digital’s reaction

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Since we last spoke about fake news some of the big dogs in digital have risen to the threat. In terms of who is doing the most, Facebook currently seems to be taking the lead. The platform has taken a hard and fast stance against fake news, banning any ads on its network that has links to it. They’ve recently taken this one step further, banning pages and people from advertising on Facebook if they have a history of sharing fake news stories. This will effectively shut off the page from being able to bring people in through advertising and then spreading more fake news – nipping it in the bud as it were. Their latest algorithm update has also banned using an image still that looks like a thumbnail of a video but links off to a separate page. This move ensures that no users are led to a site which might be potentially hosting fake news or dangerous content.

After being accused of spreading fake news, digital dominator Google has also brought in their own anti-fake news measures. Their ‘featured snippets in search’ function pulls answers from popular websites to answer user queries without even leaving Google – a simple and effective tool. However, as this is generated by an automatic algorithm based on popularity, Google was found to be pulling answers from much followed fake news sites – giving users answers that were inaccurate or outright lies. In response to this, Google has made it simpler to report false sources and made changes to ensure their rate of response to such complaints was a lot speedier. They’ve also promised that they would refine its search engine to surface more authoritative pages and demote low-quality content. And, what’s more, they’ve even created a fact-checking tool which surfaces results from the likes of PolitiFact and Snopes which give you more info on who said the claim and whether it is true or not.

What can we do about it?

When it comes to protecting yourself and perhaps even your business from fake news, it’s about having some common sense and a questioning eye. As we said before, most of us automatically take the content we consume online with a pinch of salt, but this is more important now more than ever. And don’t just think that this is constrained to news outlets by any means. There might even be competitors in your industry or other marketers which are creating fake news or falsified content for commercial gain. Key to combating this is cluing yourself on the rules and regulations. You should also know who you need to go to if you do need to make a complaint and what tools that can help you to do this too. Creating authentic and relevant content to your audience is essential – and it is this which will always reign king of digital.

If you need some direction on how to get started on your own authentic content, or how to stay fake news free on social get in touch – we’re happy to lend a hand.

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