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Forbes: 'Fake news spread could be just what brands needed’

Forbes on the advantages of fake news

Forbes has weighed in on the fake news dilemma, believing despite all the negatives it could be “just what brands needed in this distributed content world to rise to the top again”.

While the fake news epidemic has raised pressing concerns on the value of truth in media, transparency of digital advertising, and the growing influence of social media, it's also an opportunity for publishers to premiumize the value of their brands, and the wake up call needed to establish industry-wide standards in advertising.

So believes Forbes’ chief revenue officer Mark Howard, who views the rise of fake news as“tough situation” for the likes of Google and Facebook to figure out a way to verify truthful information, an area he believes could see brands “really start to shine again”.

“This could be just what brands needed in this distributed content world to rise to the top again,” he added.

While the concern that fake news sites will cannibalize the ad revenue from their legitimate counterparts is a logical one, the informed reader can easily differentiate between publishers they can trust and those they can’t, said Susan Bidel, senior analyst at Forrester. This could have a knock-on effect on advertising.

“Fake news allows premium publishers to rise above the noise and attract to their sites the most attractive consumers which should make it easier for advertisers to understand where to put their ad dollars,” added Bidel.

Hers is a view backed by data. A recent study by Stanford University professor Matthew Gentzkow and his NYU counterpart Hunt Allcott, which aims to calculate the effectiveness of fake news in swinging a political vote, revealed that only 8% of the 1,200 US respondents believed false news stories were accurate.

Instead, the fake news generators are interested in selling ads on their fake news sites through programmatic channels. Marketers who control the purse strings currently do not have a clear line of sight as to where their ads are going, whether on fake sites or otherwise, due to the automated nature of programmatic.

Bidel suggested the instant cure for such fake news generators is to “choke off their revenue”. This would require marketers to demand greater transparency and clarity from adtech partners as to where their ads are being shown, or a complete scrapping of programmatic until this is figured out, she continued.

“If you are acting on my behalf I fully expect you to make sure that what you are buying for me is legitimate. If you can't figure that out then I will go somewhere else.” she said. “This is important to marketers because they need to control where their ads are going, without control their brands are in jeopardy.”

The problem that then arises for those media buyers is determining what is real and what is not. Doing this on a case-by-case basis is too time consuming and resource-heavy. Setting up algorithms is complex and “there still needs to be some level of human overview”, said Bidel.

“In my experience the bad guys are always one step ahead of the good guys,” she added.

The positive, she hopes, is that the fake news epidemic will act as the clarion call the industry needs to establish robust standards in most forms of media to digital advertising. She argued that the idea that marketers can pump money into an ad network with “no idea” of where that ad is going “should not be tolerated”, and that buying agents need to adhere to a set of standards or be scrapped.

“There are standards in every medium so there is no reason to think there shouldn't be in the digital medium. This episode will spur people even more in that direction. In the end that will be healthy for the entire industry and ecosystem,” she opined.

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Jessica Goodfellow

The Drum's media reporter covering everything from publishing, TV, social media, radio and technology.

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