The rapid spread of misinformation—better known these days as fake news—was named one of the top 10 dangers to society by the World Economic Forum in 2014. Powered by automation and algorithms, fake news is amplified more than ever on social media. In fact, orchestrators of fake news rely heavily on social media to create web traffic, drive engagement, and influence political views.
To understand the threat and impact of fake news, researchers at the Oxford Internet Institute (OII) studied 22 million tweets that contained hashtags related to politics leading up to the 2016 US Presidential Election. The research, “Junk News and Bots during the U.S. Election: What Were Michigan Voters Sharing Over Twitter?,” identified 138,686 users from Michigan, a battleground state evenly split between both presidential candidates, Clinton and Trump. The state of Michigan was specifically selected because the two presidential candidates were equally supported, limiting political biasness in the research.
The Twitter data revealed that Trump-related traffic (57%) significantly outpaced Clinton-related traffic (20%) and neutral content (13%). Importantly, the research uncovered that professional news and fake news are close to a one-to-one ratio when it comes to political news tweets. Further, nearly a quarter of political tweets (23%) contain fake news links. and a full 47% of the political news content can be classified as political propaganda. Needless to say, social media’s proliferation of fake news is reason for concern.
Social platforms provide a fertile environment for the fast spread of fake without the necessary vetting and questioning of the information. Significantly, the Oxford Internet Institute defines “professional news” as that produced by major news brands. The information displays “the qualities of professional journalism, with fact-checking and credible standards of production. They provide clear information about real authors, editors, publishers and owners, and the content is clearly produced by an organization with a reputation for professional journalism.” And, while social platforms claim to be addressing the problem, premium publishers consider ensuring the accuracy of the information they report fundamental to their business so that they can deliver value to the reader and maintain consumer trust.
New patters of content consumption are emerging from the way teens and young adults access news. It’s not surprising that both smartphones and social media usage play a large role here. According to the James L. Knight Foundation’s new qualitative research, How Youth Navigates the News Landscape, young consumers don’t follow the news as much as it follows them. In fact, young adults often happen upon news content by accident and then share it on social media and messaging apps.
Findings from the Knight analysis include:
Most teens and young adults express little trust in the news media. They often seek out multiple resources to confirm information that is read.
Young people see today’s news as something that is often created outside of traditional journalism channels. In fact, what is defined as news among young consumers includes social media, aggregators, messaging apps, and user-generated content.
Young news consumers express much doubt about the accuracy of the news and assume that some level of bias is unavoidable in much of the information they encounter.
Social media plays a significant role in how news is disseminated in today’s marketplace. Young consumers are exposes to varying degrees of news quality as well as biasness.
Facebook leads as the primary social media news source.
Young consumers think of user-generated content, especially live video accounting of events, to be more truthful than traditional news outlets.
Young adults see most of the news as depressing and sad.
While the research speaks to young consumers’ lack of confidence in news content in general, it also speaks their high levels of trust in specific news brands. Importantly, news outlets should provide clear branding and identification as it aids in informing the younger audience of the information’s accuracy.
With trust in mass media at a record low, publishers look to 2017 as an opportunity to distinguish quality journalism from the fake news landscape and bot traffic of big tech platforms.
CEOs, editors and digital leaders today recognize both the opportunities and the challenges in 2017. Reuters Institute surveyed 143 senior publishing executives in 24 countries to recognize current business sentiment, uncover trends and identify new developments in the digital marketplace. Interestingly, Reuters found that more than two-thirds (70%) of executives believe fake news offers them a chance to strengthened their brands. More than half (56%) say that Facebook Messenger will be an “important/very important” part of their offsite initiatives this year (53% for WhatsApp and 49% for Snapchat). And at the same time, just under half (46%) of these same respondents are more worried today than a year ago, about the role of offsite platforms.
Platform and algorithm changes allowing for easier reporting of false news (and feeding these signals back into the core algorithms so these sources get devalued).
Regulation threats to remove fake news from sites.
Algorithms are expected to challenge our bias.
Fighting for quality news brands.
2. Redefining publishers’ relationship with platforms
Publishers fight back by creating platforms of their own (e.g. Schibsted, started its own platforms for content and advertising to create the scale and data competence to compete with Facebook).
Platforms pay hard cash for content.
Mergers and acquisitions happen more often as scale will mean operating across multiple platforms.
3. Digital advertising and sustainable business models
Subscription payments will focus more about membership and less about paywalls. News publishers, especially, will need to attract new customers, offer new pay services and earn more money from their current subscribers.
Data, loyalty and personalization will help with converting unidentified web users into loyal customers by creating more relevant and personal experiences.
Mobile alerts and the battle for locked screens signifies the shift to mobile notifications to attract consumers back to apps and websites.
Acceptable ads and ad-blocking apply pressure on the marketplace to ensure a more positive user experience with non-intrusive advertising.
Sponsored content replaces the displayad model.
Pop-up newspapers and magazines will offer in-depth coverage on certain topics but for only a limited period of time.
4. Messaging applications and news bots
Voice news bots with voice-activated platforms gain strong penetration (e.g. Alexa and Google Home).
Fact-checking bots are activated (e.g. Full Fact, a UK based company, is already looking to developing a service that fact checks live press conferences).
Conversational commerce emerges (e.g. Crosby, a travel bot service, that reads your email or group messaging conversations and send you recommendations for where to eat, what to do and when to leave for the airport).
5. Voice as an operating system and the rebirth of audio
Podcasts and audio books get a big boost in the car.
Improvements to data and advertising around podcasts lead to significant investments by publishers. A new measurement system form Nielsen’s and a Swedish start-up platform Acast offer metrics for podcasts to support advertising models.
Businesses start to deploy Amazon Echo and Google Home speakers (e.g. hotels use voice-controlled devices to enable guests to order room service, check the weather and find TV channels).
6. Online video and the future of TV
Disillusion with Facebook Live shifts a live focus towards sport and exclusive music, both strong vehicles to attract audiences and advertisers.
Oversupply of short form video leads to falling advertising premiums.
New opportunities with feature-based videos for brands integrate messages into videos.
Video-selfies to experiment with new fantastical filters (e.g. Splash is a new app that allows you to create and annotate 360-degree experiences).
7. The blurring of television and online video
Top content will increasingly be watched on big screens.
Competition for talent and rights heats up to drive new subscription and retain existing users.
News bulletins lose audiences triggers new ways to appeal to young (e.g. CNN acquired video-sharing app start-up Beme, co-founded by YouTube creator Casey Neistat, is building a new brand around distinctive reporting and commentary for millennials).
New reality tech offers huge potential to shape experiences for entertainment, education and commerce. Forecasters suggest around 30m devices will be sold by 2020 generating revenue of around $21 billion.
9. AI and algorithms under fire (e.g. An example gone sour was Microsoft’s friendly AI driven chatbot Tay. Within its first 24 hours on Twitter with Millennials, it was spouting offensive and racist messages such as “Hitler was right”).
10. Automation and a jobless future means robo journalism on the way
More automated stories.
Intelligent content production systems.
Computer and networked assisted investigations.
Filters and alerts are being developed to help manage the information overload (e.g. SamDesk and Dataminr are deployed in newsrooms to pinpoint and manage breaking news in social networks).
11. Cyber-Wars, and Personal Security
Encryption and surveillance are on the rise.
12. New technology
Sharper screens, fold out phones, better batteries.
Faster and more reliable networks (e.g. 5G).
Clothes as a platform with wearable technology.
Biometrics, the end of passwords and checkout-free shopping. A new shopping experience, Amazon Go, that automatically detects when products are taken from or returned to the shelves using computer vision and sensor fusion.
13. Start-ups to watch
Cheddar is a new business news video network for millennial. Founder Jon Steinberg of Buzzfeed is charging $6.99 for premium services on its own website and is looking to drive carriage fees from services like Facebook Live, Twitter and Netflix.
Zipline is a small robot airplane designed to carry vaccines, medicine and blood in developing countries.
Houseparty is a new group video chat, up to 8 people can chat at a time, from the creators of Meerkat.
Accompany aims to provide an automated briefing of all the information you need before you walk into any meeting including relevant files, email conversations with attendees, details about their lives sucked from the web plus up-to-date information on company performance.
2017 provides many opportunities for publishers to rebuild consumer trust in digital media. The Reuters Institute predictions suggest that publishers must help scrub the digital environment from bot traffic, annoying ads and fake or misleading news. They must hold themselves and others responsible and keep a watchful eye on the algorithmic accountability tied to the digital experience. Importantly, publishers must continue to build their digital brand and diversify their revenue streams beyond digital display advertising.
It’s a brave new world. As the media companies experiment with quickly-advancing technology amid the duopoly of Google and Facebook, tight competition antiquates the notion that only “content is king.” In the meantime, according to the 2017 Edelman Trust Barometer, consumer faith in four pillars — NGOs, business, media and government — fell since last year, with the trust in press falling the most.
But challenge also presents opportunity. Through careful planning and innovation, Digital Content Next (DCN) CEO Jason Kint believes that DCN’s members are in a unique position to find success. The key? Building and sustaining trust — not just in news, but also in brands. As Kint pointed out during DCN’s members-only Next: Summit, held Jan. 19-20 in New Orleans, it is “universally understood” that trust arises under conditions of uncertainty and vulnerability.
“I believe that there’s never been a better opportunity to create trust with consumers and advertisers,” Kint said.
Over two days, amid a backdrop of the French Quarter in the Crescent City, Summit speakers urged focusing on brand, product and shared community-centric experiences to allow companies to survive, and even thrive, amid shifting media sands. This theme continued, from the kickoff by Harvard Business School professor Bharat Anand, who explained how connectivity promotes loyalty during digital change, to a closing session about how to manage a subscription business amid wide-spread content distribution on third-party platforms with Kinsey Wilson, Editor for Innovation and Strategy at The New York Times.
DCN member-company executives from around the globe reflected on how to retain and build consumer loyalty by marrying “customer first” mentality with smart, technology-driven strategy. Here are three key takeaways:
1. Embrace change — even if it means being radically different. So-called “best practices” may be antiquated and dangerous to follow. In the current environment, it can pay off to establish a unique identity.
Steve Cook, Contributing Editor of CMO.com, said time today is more valuable than money. To appeal to clients, companies need to have brands or services that are “excellent,” usually because “they’ve managed to differentiate themselves.”
Publisher of Vox Media, Melissa Bell, challenged the audience to embrace fluid business models. For Vox, that meant softening the barrier between revenue and editorial teams to create premium — and enjoyable — advertising as part of the full package. “We think of ourselves as publishers,” she said. “We need to think of ourselves as in a conversation with people. How do we hear from them what they need from us?”
Justin Smith, the CEO of Bloomberg Media Group, said it’s essential to be gutsy when building digital-first brands amid change. As a vertically-integrated company that uses media to drive value to its core business, Bloomberg’s role has been that of “big disruptor” and “innovator” in the industry. But for success to happen, Bloomberg had to be open to failure. Whenever an employee “tries and fails,” Smith added, Michael Bloomberg himself will go to the department and “pat the person on the back.”
2. Dare to examine paid subscription. Don’t be afraid to demand more for higher quality.
Nearly 77 million people are expected to use ad-blockers by the end of 2017. Yet, the majority of digital media revenue still comes from advertising: a sign that companies need to focus on user experience and leverage quality. “We must find a way to use our brands as wellsprings for new revenue opportunities,” Kint said. “We can’t be beholden to the advertising market.”
According to Wilson from The New York Times, by its nature quality journalism “has always, in some form, been subsidized.” Testing a “leaky” paywall can both generate revenue and be flexible enough to drive conversation on social platforms.
Financial Times CEO John Ridding said his company is always examining ways to reduce reliance on advertising. The key? Superior content that readers trust. “Some information isn’t as worthy as others,” Ridding said. “I think the internet is a liberating force for inclusion and access, but at same time there has to be a role for quality information, which costs money.”
Marta Tellado, the CEO of Consumer Reports, underscored that even an older, paid-subscription company can become relevant in today’s market with some effort. “You have to reintroduce yourself,” Tellado said about their focus on reinvention. “We have to show up where consumers are.”
3. Diversify. Creativity can be harnessed to drive additional revenue.
Maya Draisin, the associated publisher of WIRED Media Group, said the company has invested in live events, branded content with Netflix, executive membership and a promotional t-shirt collection to help drive revenue. “We look at everything.”
President of The Atlantic Bob Cohn said that, in addition to digital, print and video, the company has launched highly-successful live event and consulting businesses, fast-growing ventures that help individuals connect and organizations “strategize digital thinking.” He advised directing business ventures into “open space” as you would a game of ultimate Frisbee: “Where is the audience going and where is business going?” he challenged. “Send the disk in that direction.”
And, rather than taking a digital-first, or mobile-first approach, Cohn said that The Atlantic is “audience-first.”
In a similar vein, Viacom EVP Ross Martin said that they take a “fans first” approach, which has motivated unique promotional techniques. One example? Turning Airbnb into a native advertising platform with a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles experience. Martin showed a three-year-old’s reaction a “Ninja Turtles lair” they created to look like turtles digs in the movie set. The child’s face was lit up, eyes wide: delight personified. “Do you call that marketing?” quipped Martin. “I don’t know what you call it.”
Ultimately, all of the DCN Next: Summit’s major themes circled back to that audience relationship and, above all, maintaining their trust. “Sometimes called consumers or audiences…for us, fans are the north star,” Martin said. And that mindset is a healthy one that should guide this industry forward.
While it is appealing to start off a New Year with rosy predictions, it is also important to take a clear-eyed look at the road (and roadblocks) ahead. We asked a few of our members what they see as the biggest challenges the digital media industry faces today.
Here’s what leaders at ten diverse media companies see as the biggest challenge in the year to come:
Monetizing scaled social audiences and the content made for these channels is a challenge. We see the benefit of being a first mover and building a large social audience. That said, the benefit today lies heavily in the marketing value it provides in driving traffic to our sites and leveraging it to convert fans into paying customers through subscription offerings like Motor Trend OnDemand. We are able to monetize through advertising, but the nature of the monetization on social is more challenging to do at scale, as it requires a more custom approach compared to more traditional, turnkey placements/buys.
Our industry must build a parallel world adjacent to the current one dominated by Google and Facebook. This new world must be scaled, intelligent and open. Currently, 85 cents of every new dollar are going to the two biggest players because they have been solving for scaled and intelligent – and have done a great job doing so. But, an open garden is increasingly becoming a requirement for sophisticated advertisers who want partners who are flexible on data and transparent on pricing and performance.
It’s hard to pick a “biggest” challenge, as there as so many. But, to me, refining user experience remains a crucial one. There are still way too many sites alienating readers for a quick buck by hammering them with pop-ups, unnecessary slideshows, pagination, interstitials and more. Yes, we need to make money. But gouging readers to the point where we drive them away is an abysmal long-term audience strategy. Treat your audience like you don’t care about them, and they will surely return the favor.”
Steven Smith, President of Digital Media, AccuWeather @accuweather
In 2017, we continue to hurtle toward a ubiquitous global user audience, accessing data from every imaginable kind of device with a greater focus on personalization, localization, service and mobility. Content providers are going to have to step up to meet the needs of an audience that wants fast, relevant, and localized—and provided consistently regardless of device, from smartphones to connected refrigerators. That makes strong partnerships with vendors a necessity, from Cloud storage providers for scaling data to meet demand demands to robust content management solutions to help port news from format to format and device to device. And of course, the audience will continue to demand content that is more timely and relevant than ever.
The biggest challenge we face is building diverse streams of revenue that support innovative storytelling. In 2017, digital media companies must bridge the current divide between creating compelling stories that attract interest and attention, and the opportunities for monetization that are increasingly concentrated on just a few of the largest platforms. The industry is not going to be successful if there’s too much focus on trendy stories that spin up on a one-off basis or so-called native ad content that lacks authenticity. We need immersive and captivating high-quality content that engages diverse audiences and creates a wide fan base across emerging media platforms. That diversification of revenue will be critical to building and maintaining a sustainable engine for digital media innovation.
Establishing timely and trusted cross-media measurement is an enormous challenge — but a critically important one. People consume media on an ever-growing number of platforms and devices and we must establish accurate ways to measure the total audience we reach and their engagement with content. That means having clear, trusted standards and metrics — which measure across TV, apps, web, OTT and more — and do so both in- and out-of-home. The connection people have with digitally-delivered content and advertising continues to grow enormously. But so does fake content and ad fraud. Trusted and transparently-measured environments will become ever-more valuable.
Beth Lawrence, EVP of Digital Ad Sales, Scripps Networks Interactive @ScrippsNet
A big challenge in digital in 2017 will be the ability for clients and consumers to separate the wheat from the chaff. We all know digital is here to stay and continues to be a more important revenue driver every year. But the quality of digital content has been under the radar, and in the final analysis, marketers care what brands they associate with. Period. Content matters; quality content rules. It will be a year of cleaning up, properly measuring and delivering great results in digital.
The biggest challenge will continue to be capturing consumer attention as existing platforms grow and new platforms emerge.
Vikki Neil, SVP/GM of Scripps Lifestyle Studios @ScrippsNet
In digital, you must stay open to all ideas that come your way, but disciplined enough to say no to many. You must move quickly and not wait for perfection, but perfect what you do daily. There’s not time to develop a long-range plan like a traditional media business offers. From my seat, the biggest challenge is a combination of making the right bets, and moving as fast as humanly possible to understand the space before your competitors, so that you can build the best offering for consumers and advertisers. It’s impossible to be everywhere across all opportunities, so choose wisely, go quickly and iterate daily.
The biggest challenge for media is building community. The strategies that have propelled many digital media companies into large audiences are largely commoditized, so you need to figure out how to connect your content and communities together in a deeper and unique way.
The biggest challenge for digital media in 2017 will be for quality publishers to cut through the noise – of ad fraud, fake news, and non-human traffic – to command fair market pricing for their trusted brands and influential audiences. Evaluating and leveraging these trusted environments will continue to be both important and difficult as the market weighs chasing scale and audience against quality and transparency.
As we look at the 2017 media landscape, there is potential for a massive upheaval on multiple fronts with the forecasted political uncertainty. The industry is resilient and adaptable, and we must remain focused on building great products for fans. And perhaps anxiety is unwarranted.
In 1972, a couple of intrepid Washington Post journalists stumbled onto a story about a break-in at Democratic National Committee Headquarters. These two young men had no idea they had unearthed one of the greatest political scandals of the 20th century, one that would eventually take down a president. All they knew was that they pulled a string and didn’t let go until the truth came tumbling out.
The Watergate scandal (named for the complex where the break-in occurred) was so legendary that it became the archetype for all scandals that came after it. These days, major scandals (be they political or not) are likely to have the ending “gate” amended to their popular name in homage — all because of journalists who doggedly pursued the truth. We need people like that now more than ever.
When I was coming of age, those two journalists, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, inspired me and a generation of young men and women to pursue a career in journalism. We believed that journalists could make a difference, that you could hold people in power accountable and that was worthwhile and righteous work.
Somewhere along the way, journalism lost its way. Maybe it was the corporatization of media one of my college professors warned us about. As media ownership consolidated into fewer and fewer hands, a reckoning was bound to come. Maybe it came in the form of the internet, a concept that newspapers chose to ignore or simply misunderstood until their industry was steamrolled. Newspapers closed down or radically transformed to survive. Journalists lost their jobs… or transformed. The mission changed.
Perhaps more than all of that, the industry itself shifted in a dramatic way, one which caused it to lose the trust of a significant segment of its core audience. Pursuing the truth, holding those in power accountable was no longer a priority. In a quest for clicks, it seemed that people didn’t want to hear uncomfortable truths. They wanted to be entertained with the latest celebrity gossip or hear about the new blockbuster movie that was coming out.
Time frames and ways of delivering news shifted too. News broke on social media, sometimes before conventional news outlets even knew it had happened. Suddenly because of that growing speed, being first took priority over being right, and as the number of journalists decreased, distrust grew. According to data from Gallup, in 2005 around 50% of respondents trusted the media a great deal/fair amount. That number had plunged to 32% by 2016, dropping below 40% for the first time since polling began in 1997.
It’s interesting that as the trust in media dropped, at the same time that the number of working journalists also decreased dramatically. That’s probably not a coincidence. According to data from Neiman Labs, the number of journalists in the United States tumbled from a high of 54,700 in 2003 down to 32,900 in 2015.
Last week though, after years of bleeding jobs, we heard some honest-to-goodness positive news — a newspaper was actually hiring journalists in 2017 — and it couldn’t come soon enough, judging from those poll numbers. Politico reported that the Washington Post planned to add more than 5 dozen journalists to the staff this year, an 8% increase.
As we move into 2017, it’s time to earn that trust back, and the best way to do that, is to go back to the hard work of being of a journalist, of following the stories that matter, of holding people in power accountable. Having more boots on the ground in Washington will certainly be welcome. As a society, we need that. Most of all, we need men and women, whoever they may be, to step up and inspire a generation that journalism is honorable work, just as Woodward and Bernstein did for mine.
American adults are fooled by fake news headlines approximately 75% of the time. Those likely to turn to Facebook for news are more likely to think fake news headlines are correct than those using other platforms according to a survey conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs for BuzzFeed News. Consumers find it difficult to filter out fake news headlines without the necessary background filled-in, particularly in social media channels. Interestingly, consumers are even likely to believe fake news headlines that don’t necessarily fit with their ideological beliefs.
Almost one-third of respondents recalled at least one of a selection of fake news headlines from the election. In comparison, 57% of respondents recalled at least one of the real news headlines tested in the survey. Interestingly, consumers who identified themselves as Republican are more likely to think fake election news stories are very or somewhat accurate. Eight in 10 Republicans rated fake news headlines as accurate (among those they recognized), compared seven in 10 Democrats.
The fake news headline recalled by the largest number of respondents, 22%, is the story from the website the Denver Guardian, “FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide.” The highest awareness for a true news headline was at 34% of respondents for recalling Trump “absolutely” requiring Muslims to register.
One of the highest recalled true news headlines was the CBS News post-election story about Donald Trump stating he will not accept a presidential salary, “Donald Trump on Refusing Presidential Salary: ‘I’m Not Taking It.’” More than half of respondents (57%) recalled seeing this headline. Another news headline with a 90% accuracy rating, among the 157 respondents who recognized it, was the New York Times op-ed “I Ran the CIA. Now I’m Endorsing Hillary Clinton.”
Respondents rated the fake news story “FBI Director Comey Just Put a Trump Sign on His Front Lawn,” with the highest overall accuracy rating. Among the 186 people who recalled seeing it, 81% said it was very or somewhat accurate.
News headlines tested:
FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide (Fake, 22% recall)
Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement (Fake, 19% recall)
Donald Trump Protester Speaks Out: “I Was Paid $3,500 to Protest Trump’s Rally” (Fake, 19% recall)
Donald Trump Sent His Own Plane to Transport 200 Stranded Marines (Fake, 14% recall)
FBI Director Comey Just Put a Trump Sign on His Front Lawn (Fake, 10% recall)
Donald Trump on Refusing Presidential Salary: “I’m Not Taking It” (True, 57% recall)
Donald Trump Says He’d “Absolutely” Require Muslims to Register (True, 34% recall)
Trump: “I Will Protect Our LGBTQ Citizens” (True, 27% recall)
Barbara Bush: “I Don’t Know How Women Can Vote” for Trump (True, 25% recall)
I Ran the CIA. Now I’m Endorsing Hillary Clinton (True, 11% recall)
Consumers frequently see fake news in their social media feeds according to another survey on fake news conducted by Morning Consult, a media and technology. They found that amost one-third of respondents (31%) reported seeing a fake news story online more than once a day. Fifty-five percent of those surveyed said they started to read a story online only to realize it was fake.
In terms of social platform usage, participants of the Ipsos survey cited Facebook as the most popular with just less than half (47%) visiting Facebook multiple times per day and another 15% report visiting once a day. YouTube was the second most popular social platform. Twenty percent stated they visit YouTube multiple times per day and 11% visit once a day. The fact that fake news headlines are often remembered and said to be accurate by a strong number of consumers points to the fact that consumers have a difficult time discerning between fact and fictional news on social media.
Since Donald J. Trump became president-elect of the United States, attention on “fake news,” its role during the U.S. election, its contribution to social media echo chambers (and subsequently, our understanding of reality) has taken America by storm. By one professor’s estimate, at least 120 fake news sites exist. Apparently, fake news entrepreneurs can earn anywhere from $10,000 a month, to $3,000 a day—even as much as $10,000 a day from Google AdSense.
Facebook’s role as the garden where these fake news “insects” roam wild is under even more scrutiny, as is the payment mechanisms from Google. Just what these companies ought to do, though, and how publishers can assist with their efforts, has been a trial-and-error process that leaves few, if any, industry analysts satisfied in the current hyper-partisan, “post-truth” world. But some common themes have emerged in the search for solutions.
First, Admit There’s a Problem One is that the leaders of these tech companies must acknowledge with resolute conviction that they do contribute to the spread of misinformation. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg immediately denied the claim that Facebook played a major role in the elections and declared that “more than 99 percent of what people see is authentic.” Six days later, after more intense coverage on the issue—including word that a renegade group of workers within Facebook had formed a task force to deal with the problem—Zuckerberg wrote a more thoughtful post on Facebook, outlining some of the projects in motion to mete out fake news.
“We do not want to be arbiters of truth ourselves, but instead rely on our community and trusted third parties,” he wrote before specifying efforts like third party verification from fact-checkers and improvements on the quality of “related articles.” “Disrupting fake news economics” is also a goal, and Facebook updated its Audience Network policy as well to align with that. Now, it states “it will not display ads in websites or mobile apps that hold fake news,” as Adweek’s Marty Swant and Christopher Heine reported.
Google too revealed it was working on policy changes to keep fake news sites from using its AdSense advertising network. The new mandate pressures publishers to prove their legitimacy. “Moving forward, we will restrict ad serving on pages that misrepresent, misstate, or conceal information about the publisher, the publisher’s content, or the primary purpose of the web property,” Google said.
Second, Take Concrete, Transparent Steps The moves are not quite enough, though, according to DCN CEO Jason Kint. In a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Kint argues that the two companies owe both users and democracy far more, especially with their resources. “Wouldn’t it make sense for you to pursue cleaning up the garbage littering the digital media ecosystem with the same excitement, investment and vigilance with which you pursue these huge, visionary projects?” Klint wrote. “We don’t see that in your public statements or actions.”
He also underscored the necessity of transparency. Zuckerberg’s post, for example, had left some industry analysts wondering—who are the independent fact-checkers Facebook will be working with? When news broke that the company was secretly developing censorship tools to enter China, many in the tech industry bristled at why it couldn’t devote that kind of stewardship to curbing fake news.
Zeynep Tufekci, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina School of Information and Library Science, stressed that Facebook needs to open up its walled garden of data on fake news and its influence. “Unfortunately, Facebook exercises complete control over access to this data by independent researchers,” she wrote in an Op-Ed for the New York Times. “It’s as if tobacco companies controlled access to all medical and hospital records.”
Roles for Publishers, Ad Tech If Facebook is akin to a tobacco company, that means that publishers and news outlets must work harder to depend less on Facebook and more on alternative means of distribution, to reduce the monopoly it has over publishers. Publishers also need to look internally at themselves. Fraudulent ads have been known to appear on the New York Times, for example, because human oversight of programmatic advertising is often lacking. Even if the Times has one of the “cleanest ad experiences in the publishing business,” as public editor Liz Spayd wrote, the Times should do more to ensure this stepsister of fake news doesn’t appear.
Ad tech firms, who tend to take a “who am I to decide?” approach to fake news, as Digiday’s Lucia Moses wrote, might also want to focus less on the dollars earned and have an empathy check. Perhaps they could take a tip from AppNexus Inc., which operates one of the biggest digital advertising services. The company did a “human audit” of the so-called alt-right website Breitbart News, found it violated hate speech rules, and so barred Breitbart from using its ad tech service. Even if AppNexus wasn’t looking at fake news, per se, its hard scrutiny shows how firms can be serious about the range of issues it has presented.
The publishing and platform businesses ultimately serve their users. For publishers to truly emphasize facts in the click-bait, competitive nature of the web, they need to prime their audiences with less of an emotional reaction toward consuming information, and write headlines and news alerts appropriately instead of amplifying false claims. That also requires much-needed media literacy for all of us, especially in light of news that students cannot identify fake news.
Indeed, no one technology company or publisher can save us now. This is a group effort.
In late October, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved sweeping new privacy rules, which require Internet providers Service Providers (ISPs) to obtain affirmative opt-in consent before collecting and using sensitive consumer data. Importantly, sensitive data was defined broadly by the FCC to include financial and health data, geolocation, social security numbers and—for the first time—browsing history and app usage data. ISPs would need to offer consumers a way to opt-out of the collection and use of non-sensitive data. With Donald Trump’s election, a Republican-led FCC is likely to withdraw or significantly alter these privacy rules. So, where do we go from here?
It is important to note there is significant precedent and support for requiring a higher data collection threshold for ISPs. In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a report, entitled “Protecting Consumer Privacy in an Era of Rapid Change,” which laid out a framework for how companies should protect consumer privacy. The report drew lines between practices that would meet an average consumer’s expectations and those that would not. In their argument for a heightened requirement for ISPs, the FTC noted that “ISPs serve as a major gateway to the internet with access to vast amounts of unencrypted data that their customers send or receive over the ISP’s network. Thus, ISPs are in a position to develop highly detailed and comprehensive profiles of their customers—and to do so in a manner that may be completely invisible.”
In addition, the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA), the industry’s self-regulatory body, holds ISPs to a heightened requirement because they are in a unique position to “collect all or substantially all” of a consumer’s data. As the DAA Principles note, ISPs or “service providers” must “obtain the consent of users before engaging in online behavioral advertising.” For comparison, the DAA requires only that websites offer consumers a way to opt out.
This differentiated treatment of ISPs exists for good reason—there are fundamental differences between ISPs and other actors in the ecosystem. While the FCC has asserted on several occasions that it has no ability to regulate edge providers (aka websites), FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler also recognizes the difference between ISPs and edge providers. He has noted that consumers have fundamental choices about which websites they visit, while they do not have the same kind of choice when it comes to their ISPs. Indeed, the above-mentioned FTC 2012 Privacy Report notes that data collection and use by publishers like members of DCN tends to meet consumers’ expectations because that data collection and use occurs within the same context.
As we noted last February, context matters. DCN members go to great lengths to provide a trusted experience for consumers because our members understand that consumers have a myriad of places from which to get news, entertainment and information on the internet. This trusted experience and direct relationship with the consumer is also the value proposition for advertisers. Ubiquitous and non-transparent tracking by 3rd parties undermines the trusted experience that premium publishers are striving to create for their audiences.
As Ben Thompson notes in his post-election wrap, digital advertising has been built to be mostly direct marketing and data arbitraging on the failed premise that consumers don’t really care about their individual privacy or right to use the web without being tracked by 3rd parties. But the reality is that consumers do care – they’re limiting their online activity, clearing cookies, enabling Do Not Track signals and increasingly adopting ad blocking software. The current dynamic that favors a clear (and legal) arbitrage opportunity is actually harming advertisers and publishers along with the consumers they both serve and need. To continue ignoring these consumer concerns is likely to invite more regulatory scrutiny and foster an unhealthy digital economy. But, more importantly, ignoring these trends is also a missed opportunity for premium publishers who are best positioned to benefit from increased consumer trust.
While there will be significant debate about whether the FCC should have acted and whether the rules should be repealed, let’s be clear: Value should be shifted back to companies that collect and use consumer data transparently and in ways that meet with consumer expectations. In this way, the FCC privacy rules may serve to help publishers. If more companies act in an open and respectful manner, perhaps we can begin to repair the consumer trust issues that have battered our industry. In a world where context matters, premium publishers matter.
Consumers’ trust in the media fell to its lowest point this year. Only 32% of consumers said that they have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust in mass media versus 68% who stated “not very much” or “not at all” reports Gallup Poll Social Series: Governance. While Gallup has seen consumer confidence in media decline in the last 10 years, this year’s findings represent an 8% declined compared to a year ago. Gallup’s survey definition of mass media includes newspapers, television and radio. It is important to note that digital and news and information from the internet were not included in their definition of mass media in the survey.
The collapse in trust is most significant among young and middle-aged adults. Interestingly, those who associate with being a Republican had a more negative view of the media than those who associate with being a Democrat.
In a recent article, The Atlantic offered a few hypotheses as to why consumer trust is declining in media. Their first hypothesis emphasizes the lack of sophisticated journalism in the marketplace. The articles and programs which should inform and provide insightful dialogues are no more than a show and tell of political bantering. Another likely factor that it is an election year. Lack of media trust is cyclical and declines are registered every election year. Media trust fell in 2004, and in 2008, and again in 2012, and now it’s at an all-time low in 2016.
The third possibility could be that public faith in financial, social and political institutions such as the church, the medical system, the presidency, the Supreme Court, banks, big business, and Congress has also fallen this year impacting overall trust scores. The fourth and final hypothesis from The Atlantic is the intense media competition. In an effort to capture consumer attention, there’s more hype than ever before and some journalists are willing to take exaggerate positions on a topic throwing aside their objectivity commitment to remain on neutral grounds. Consumers distrust this type of media behavior.
Still others have suggested the decline in media trust is due to the overwhelming media options including one-sided and sensationalist approaches. As The Washington Post’s Executive Editor Marty Baron stated, “What distinguishes journalism and plain old content, is that we are digging beyond the surface. We are trying to find out why something happened, what are the consequences, who is affected – those deeper issues as opposed to just the bare-bones facts.” As the media landscape has expanded with so much user generated content including blogs, vlogs and social media, the trustworthiness of professional journalism is much harder to find among the clutter—but it has never been more important.
Ad blocking—and publisher responses to it—sit at the nexus of two trends: the increasing value of trust in the publisher-consumer relationship, and the emerging conditions of the new information market.
I wrote some years ago that the information market had been turned on its head. The Internet turns many types of information that were once scarce and expensive into overabundant—and therefore cheap—commodities. By corollary, trust and attention have become increasingly valuable.
In short: As information becomes cheap, trust becomes precious.
This generation suffers from the crushing pressure of information overload. Consumers trust premium publishers to help them cut through the white noise and present information and media that are worth spending their limited attention on. As the information deluge continues to swell over time this trust will become even more valuable.
We are witnessing the erosion of this trust and of the fair deal between users and content creators as millions of consumers install ad blockers. Publishers must choose between two conflicting options at this historic moment: to reinforce trust by addressing consumer grievances; or to ignore those grievances and restrict consumer choice.
This is a human question rather than a technological one. Ad blocking will soon be technologically irrelevant. PageFair has the technology to serve ads in a manner that ad blockers cannot circumvent, and some of our competitors claim similar abilities. Indeed, publishers can defeat ad blocking by serving ads from their own editorial content systems. But the ability to serve ads should not prevent publishers from addressing the genuine consumer grievances that caused the rise of ad blocking.
These consumer grievances that caused ad blocking are now widely understood and can be summarized thus: aggressive ads obscure content, infringe on user privacy, hoover up bandwidth and thereby add expense to user’s data plan and slow page load times, and expose users’ devices to easily avoidable security hazards.
Ignoring these grievances and erecting an ‘ad block wall’ that prevents visitors from entering one’s web site until they switch off their ad blockers is a lost opportunity to rebuild trust with the user. In the longer term this tactic restricts user choice on the open web and harms publishers—with few exceptions—by causing large numbers of users to go to other sites.
The ultimate power to leave any website that does not live up to their expectations has always been in consumers’ hands. It is a mistake to think of an ad block wall as a mechanism to give the consumer choice rather than restrict their access.
The ‘blocked web’, the portion of the Web where users block ads, is steadily growing. This is creating a new, premium space that brand marketers (and therefore publishers) can ill-afford to ignore—particularly since it is uncluttered and unaffected by ad fraud. But simply reinserting ads on the blocked web without addressing the consumers’ grievances is a mistake that will undermine the trust between publisher and user.
Publishers must make sure that the technological solutions they employ to serve ads on the blocked web also solve the speed, privacy, and UX issues that caused ad blocking in the first place.
It is worth describing the approach that we have taken. Whether or not a publisher opts for PageFair or some other solution, the following are requisite elements in a sustainable response on the blocked web, irrespective of whatever one is doing on the normal web.
First, we decided to take a strong consumer-friendly approach on privacy. For example, our analytics respect the Do Not Track standard. Advertising can be relevant and at the same time be respectful of user’s data.
Third, we learned how to limit the file size of ads to guarantee better page load times and protect the user from undue charges from their bandwidth provider. We also committed not to work with any ad formats that unexpectedly interrupt the main content of websites.
This is an approach built on the trust that users have the choice of what site to visit, and that publishers have the responsibility to protect users’ data, bandwidth, security and experience.
This is not re-insertion, it is reinvention. Showing respectful ads in a way that protects consumers from hacking, data snooping, and unwanted data plan fees will start to re-establish trust on the blocked web.
Dr. Johnny Ryan is Head of Ecosystem for PageFair, where he works with global stakeholders to sustain the open web beyond blocking. His previous roles include Chief Innovation Officer of The Irish Times. His second book “A History of the Internet and the Digital Future” is on the reading list at Harvard and Stanford. He has a PhD from the University of Cambridge (Find him on Twitter @johnnyryan and @pagefair).
Greater transparency on rebates and agency business models is critical to the level of trust between advertisers and their media agency in today’s marketplace. In a recent study conducted by ID Comms, nearly nine in 10 (86%) of marketing, media and procurement specialists reported that the current levels of trust that exist between advertisers and their media agencies was no greater than average. Further, 80% of the respondents do not anticipate any change in the level of trust in the coming year. Importantly, just over three-quarters (77%) of respondents reported that a close and trusted relationship between marketer and agency will deliver better stronger performance; it’s something many want to see fixed in the near future.
When advertisers and media agencies were asked specifically which areas of transparency most influence an advertiser’s trust in their media agencies, their top responses were:
How the agency manages rebates/AVBs, 71%
How the agency makes money, 60%
How agency group buying / share deals work, 59%
How the agency trades with media vendors, 58%
ID Comma conducted this survey globally with 65% of respondents based in Europe, 25% in the U.S. and 10% in the rest of world. Interestingly. Interestingly, 67% of U.S. agency respondents ranked higher than their counter parts in Europe with regards to “how the agency trades with media vendors” and “how the agency manages rebates” as the most significant items to determine advertiser trust in their agencies
This study further emphasizes the need for trust and transparency in business practices among advertisers and media agencies. Providing clarity on budgets, media buying practices, data integration and post campaign analysis should build stronger partnerships between advertisers and media agencies.