Fake news is nothing new (think of the National Enquirer founded in 1926), but with last year’s Brexit and US election votes, it’s certainly become more sinister. A certain leader of the free world bandies the term about to denigrate negative media coverage but that’s not an accurate definition. Fake news today, is not “Hillary Clinton Adopts Alien Baby’ type stories. Its pure propaganda published online with the deliberate purpose of spreading misinformation.
And it’s a big problem. Seventeen countries say that fake news has played an important role in recent elections, according to a report from Freedom House.
The implications for democracy are clear. And so are the possible ramifications for the global technology companies whose products and platforms are being used to spread fake news – loss of trust among users, reputational damage, increased regulation, reduced access to markets, and more.
Hot on the heels of having been compelled to answer questions from a Senate committee hearing on Russian interference in the US election, Twitter and Facebook have both introduced new ‘transparency’ policies, features and functions.
Facebook announced it’s testing new ‘Trust Indicators’. This initiative is part of the Trust Project, an international consortium of news and digital companies collaborating to build confidence in the news media. Trust Indicators include information on news publisher ethics, corrections, and fact-checking policies as well ownership structure and masthead information. Facebook users will be able to see this information to provide context to evaluate the credibility of the stories they are reading.
Soon Canadian Facebook users will be able to click on a ‘view ads’ button on any page to see the ads running on Facebook, Instagram and Messenger. Anyone will be able to see these ads, even if they are not the intended audience. After initial testing in Canada the feature will be rolled out in the USA. Interestingly, American federal election ads will be under even more scrutiny. Planned transparency features include:
- A searchable archive covering a rolling four-year period.
- Displayed details on the total spend.
- Displayed number of impressions.
- Displayed audience demographics information.
Twitter too, has announced steps to increase the transparency of ads on its platform. It’s creating an ‘Advertising Transparency Centre’ to offer visibility into advertisers and the ads they post and provide a feedback mechanism for users. The centre will allow show all current ads, information about campaign length and the creative behind ads. It will also allow users to see ads that have been specifically targeted at them and the information advertisers are using to target them.
Political ads, or as Twitter calls them electioneering ads, will have a distinct look, and will be clearly labeled.
The transparency centre will disclose the total campaign spend for electioneering ads and who’s behind them. It will also show targeting demographics and historical data about the advertiser.
Twitter has also updated its policies to include stricter requirements on who can serve electioneering ads and is introducing strong penalties for advertisers who violate policies.
These are significant changes, but will they be enough to restore users’ trust? Among Canadians, social media companies rank lower for trustworthiness than banks, telecoms companies and big pharma, according to a survey by Environics. In a survey published by Advertising Standards Canada, roughly 60 per cent of Canadians said they were not comfortable with the truth and accuracy of social media ads.
These transparency measures are a step in the right direction, but the problem is complex. It will take more than a few policy changes and new buttons to fix a fundamental lack of media literacy among most social media users.
If you’d like to learn more about Facebook and Twitter as advertising platforms, I’d love to have a chat. Click here to set up a call.