Everybody has heard the term fake news by now. But what is that and why is it? This article is going to lift the curtain and take you backstage.
The general public uses the term fake news for content which contains falsehoods. That requires me to clarify:
Articles that contain messages that are opposing to your own beliefs are not actual fake news. Although that is exactly what most politics are now using it for. Some of the content is in fact false. But mostly it is just warmed up content, scrambled with exaggerations and fear mongering.
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Fake News had a different name before: Clickbait. In essence, clickbait is an ad or even free posting, for example on facebook, which costs amount x per click. It leads the user to a website that contains advertisings. The advertiser will get amount y for the ad impressions. With some tactics y > x = money in advertisers pocket. We are talking about cents per click, sometimes even less than a cent. In order to make money you need volume. Clickbait is always titled with some catchy headline that appeals to your subconsciousness. Mostly paired with some sense of urgency. Maybe some of the operators even do care about the content that they offer. But most are just opportunists. Clickbait works like that: Fill a website with a bunch of CONTENT and place ad banners on in. Find a target audience on facebook, which costs less to direct to your website, than you earn from the impression on your ad banners. With enough people (there is almost 2 billion) As long as people keep that circle up, by clicking, the wheel keeps spinning. Once you get the ball of, it you can employ tools to automate it and make money while you sleep. (You must have seen that ad somewhere before)
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If you land on a website that splits up the content into multiple pages – you are feeding the cycle. Why do they split up the article in 5 or even 10 pages, that you have to click through? Because the data analysis of ad providers will count each page as a separate impression. All of the text could be on one page – but you are clicking through it and after a few clicks y > x.
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Those Junk-Content Cycle-Machines only care about how they can generate more income. So they tailor messages to different audiences. It doesn’t matter whether you are a democrat, republican, libertarian or a communist. We are all humans first. Which means we all have the same triggers and buttons that can be pushed. Facebook and other social networks where the cycles starts, will and can not control “fake news”. Because they make money, too. In fact most of the money is being made by facebook and social media platforms.
In short: As long as people can make money spreading false and junk content, there will be people doing it. Sharpen your senses and be sensitive about what ads and “urgent news” you click on.
4th October 2017: NY Times reports on fake news.