Making easy money is a key driver of fake news, but not the only reason it exists, SenateSHJ Partner Raphael Hilbron recently explained at a Public Relations Institute (PRINZ) event.
Internet geeks in a small town in Macedonia have been making a killing selling fake news.
The more clicks, the more money – in one case $80,000 in just six months.
Though unsavoury and even immoral, the practice of peddling fake news is feeding families who need the income.
But money isn’t the only reason for the proliferation of fake news, particularly around events like Brexit and the US presidential election.
Though not new, today’s version of fake news is the result of the digital age, declining trust in institutions like mainstream media (aided by the blurring of opinion and editorial) and the media’s failing business model.
The digital age
In our prediction of trends that will shape 2017, SenateSHJ’s Future Five identifies post-truth politics as the new norm where power has transferred from corporations to consumers, from politicians to voters, and from ‘elites’ to the common people.
Similarly, we see the ‘me’ culture emerge through platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, where everyone and anyone can be a journalist, editor and publisher.
As photojournalist Adriaan Monshouwer writes, “the audience is liberated from the … media. But they pay a price: they are extremely vulnerable to manipulation by populist politicians, greedy corporations and conspiracy thinkers….” Promoters of fake news know this and deliberately use the device to distract people from important issues.
Declining trust and blurring of the lines
Monshouwer points to the latest Gallup poll showing the American public’s trust in the media is the lowest in Gallup polling history at just 32 per cent, compared to a high of 72 per cent in 1976.
Part of the problem is the rise of opinion-driven writing popularised by the likes of Arianna Huffington. Slanted content has become the norm, with truth a casualty of convenience and popularity.
Former Dominion newspaper editor Karl du Fresne has lamented this trend, pointing to the intensely opinionated coverage of President Trump by trusted mastheads like the Sydney Morning Herald.
Responsible PR practitioners take no pleasure in the decline of traditional news media as advertising and subscriber revenues dry up and online platforms take over the sector.
Monetising hard news remains a perennial challenge for traditional news media owners and workers in the digital age and with trust at an all-time low.
These are all the reasons fake news is able to flourish.
In time, the market will self-moderate, and most fake news will be confined to social media ‘echo chambers’ although those chambers can be very large and influential.
Now is the time to keep a cool head and remember what our parents used to say: “Don’t believe everything you read”.
Fake news will run its natural course.