Is the digital dream over for publishers? This week news out of BuzzFeed, VICE and Mashable indicated that might be so, and the rhetoric from media analysts suggested a mass awakening for those who hoped digital advertising alone could be the basis for a media business.
It’s hard to believe that ‘fake news’ didn’t really exist as a term until a year ago. The accelerated pace of controversies and outrages that has driven the conversation around media bias has had such an impact that the term has now entered the Chambers dictionary.
In fact, it was only when politicians seized upon the term in November of last year that the term entered public consciousness with its current, woolly definition of ‘news that I don’t believe’. Prior to that, it was a specific if vague industry term referring to emotive misinformation created by scammers to game the algorithms that powered Facebook and Google to generate ad revenue.
Now though, the term is out there, for good or ill. A recent Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism report found that most people surveyed were at least aware of the term ‘fake news’ and its negative connotations. It also suggested that the term was able to enter the public lexicon so easily due to the ongoing trust issue people have in the mainstream media – and might in fact exacerbate it.
Speaking at The Truth Spectrum, an industry summit based solely around the ‘fake news’ problem, Quartz’s Global Finance and Economics Editor Jason Karaian said
The race between Google and Facebook to see which can make itself least popular among content publishers has taken another turn, with Mark Zuckerberg’s company taking a decisive lead. Over the past week publishers in six countries – Slovakia, Sri Lanka, Serbia, Bolivia, Guatemala and Cambodia – have seen their traffic from Facebook fall by up to two thirds as a result of an ongoing test in how publisher content appears within the social network.
In an excellent Medium post flagging up the extent of the change Filip Struhárik, editor and social media manager for Slovakian publisher Dennik N, notes that (emphasis mine):
“In main newsfeeds are now just friend and sponsored posts. Yes, you log into Facebook and you can see only posts from your friends and ads. You have to click on Explore Feed to see posts from pages you follow. If you want your Facebook page posts to be seen in old newsfeed, you have to pay.”
A Facebook spokesperson has indicated