October 18, 2018

How Publishers Can Overcome Fake News Challenges

The term “fake news” seems to be everywhere these days. It’s popularity skyrocketed in the past couple of years, especially since the current US administration and its outspoken president stepped in.

But before we delve deeper into the issue, let’s get one thing straight:

Fake news is not new and it’s not going away.

The concept of publishing content with little to no factual basis, accompanied with the intention of shocking audiences and thus increasing revenue, is pretty old. Yet, publishers have just begun to feel its impact. Numbers say 31% of programmatic advertisers will reduce spending over the fake news. So it’s safe to say this is starting to really hurt revenues.

Perhaps equally important to diminishing revenues, audiences are starting to lose trust in quality publishers. One of the biggest obstacles publishers face is oversaturation, where too many people are producing content that’s not even real, for the most part. There’s not much interest in getting quality content in front of an audience as much as being there first or super-shocking/attention-grabbing. For some, that’s the only hope of visibility.

fake news

An example of fake news (screengrab)

With all that in mind, it would be somewhat irresponsible to say that publishers can benefit from fake news. Well, they can and here’s how.

Create and maintain a trusting relationship

It’s all about doing due diligence to not share fake news left and right. Audiences are struggling to know who to trust when it comes to genuine, factually based content. The oversaturated market is precisely why publishers need to position themselves as trustworthy and credible.

How, you ask? There are quite a few approaches you can try to stand out and succeed. Some subscriber-based outlets, like the Marshall Project, investigate criminal justice stories for their subscribers. Others like the French newspaper Le Monde have its own fact-checking unit that aims to suppress the spread of fake news online.

If you are a publisher that operates on a lesser scale than these examples, don’t worry. There are lots of useful tools you can employ in this fight. For instance, Media Bias/FactCheck (MBFC) website has a bias rating and also checks how factual a site’s content is overall. PolitiFact and Snopes are also well-known and proven fact-checking sources you can use. Then, there are websites like http://www.fakenewsai.com/ that are powered by artificial intelligence and use fact-checking algorithms that cross-reference articles with other pieces for traces of inconsistent information or search for specific patterns or linguistic cues that indicate a particular article is indeed fake news. Even using Google search can help you out as the search engine company is doing its part by implementing fact check tags, attributing credible labels on search results in question.

fake news

Image credit: The Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings

As mentioned before, there are many ways to weed out fake news. Only those publishers that go the extra mile in their effort are likely to gain trust. There’s really no excuse as it doesn’t take that much to authenticate the source.

Be forthcoming with your readers

As the misinformation becomes more accessible and effective (sadly), it’s only natural to be highly suspicious of practically any story. Hence, the publishing industry in general needs to be on its toes to earn trust, and almost universally involves raising two particular traits to new levels:

honesty and transparency.

In order to keep your readers glued to your content, you have to engage with them. Fighting (and prevailing over) fake news is also about being open to your audience, and that means interacting with them on every issue that matters. Mistakes happen, some questionable content can slip under the cracks, as after all we we’re all human. In those cases, it’s vital to listen for feedback, acknowledge, and respond to strengthen your existing relationship.

The same can be said for the specificity of your content. Producing highly specific content that particular segments of your audience want might result in less readings as some parts won’t interest everyone. Still, look at it from a different perspective – those are the segments of your audience you’ll have an easier time monetizing as a part of your ongoing business strategy.

“Fake news should be like spam in the early days of the internet – a nuisance but fixable.” James Harding, former director of BBC news

Most of all, work with trusted platforms

As the battle against fake news becomes more consuming in terms of revenue and resources, it’s all the more important to partner up with monetization platforms that have proven records. Trying to tidy your editorial content with fact-checking and quality standards, particularly for news publications, is just part of the deal. We mustn’t forget about the role of monetization platforms, the backbone of many publishers’ revenue efforts. As a large part of the personalized experience audiences come to expect, the importance of working with a trusted partner cannot be taken for granted. This entails incorporating some form of verification technology and rigorous screening processes in their solution so that the audience engagement and monetization can continue uninterrupted.

Fake news – real concern

There’s not a publisher in the world who isn’t concerned about the effect of misleading content. The “fake news era” we currently live in won’t be solved by simply relying on content writers to never lie or readers to verify everything they consume multiple times. The protection at the publishing level starts with the implementation of fact-checking practices like using AI models who are on par with the human ability to spot fake content. It’s not perfect as there will always be people trying to find new ways to outsmart the technology, but it’s a start. Listen and act to what your readers have to say, and pay special attention to your monetization solution as a subpar one can hurt you just as bad as fake news.

For publishers who are willing to do this, fake news represents a golden opportunity to rise above their peers and establish trust and authority within the industry. It’s that straightforward, but you need to be smart about it. Are you?