Fake News: Are you buying what they’re selling?

Written by Ashley Smith

We’ve all heard a lot about ‘Fake News’ and ‘Alternative Facts’ lately. We won’t bore you with the details, everyone knows what it means. So why is an advertising agency in Jacksonville writing about it? What does it mean for you? The answer is, most Fake News has one end goal in mind: profits. And they achieve this thought mostly one way: advertising. Ah, now we’ve come full-circle. So come on in, and let’s discuss who really wins with Fake News, and how to spot it.

Tip #1: Be on the lookout for cross-links and other ways to get you to click.
Cross-links can be super obvious, like those Facebook ‘articles’ we’ve all seen… (21 Ways to Diet This Summer!) where each post requires one, if not multiple clicks, to reveal more information. What’s really happening behind the scenes when you click the Next button? Each time the page refreshes, new ads pop up, even if you aren’t looking at them. This lets the page creators run multiple ads in multiple spots. When there’s only one small paragraph of text that’s constantly forcing you to hit that Next button, we’ve already racked up 5 page refreshes, which could contain 4 or 5 ads per page. That’s 25+ ads the webpage is showing you before you even reach the 3rd way to diet this summer.

Cross-links can be more subtle, too. Check out this screenshot from an article on Mashable:


The words granted, similar patent, function area, 9to5mac, rumors, etc are all cross-links to different articles. And each one of these articles lives on Mashable, where more ads are being served to you. This ensures they keep racking up on money from their advertisers, even when you’re just simply trying to get a little more source info.

Tip #2: Check the sources
Now that you know cross-links can LOOK like sources that actually just re-link to multiple blogs written by the same person, check for sources that ACTUALLY link off-site. And if you can’t find any, well that’s a big ‘ole spot of crimson right there. Major red flag. However, on the same note, watch for the frequency of off-site links and where exactly they go. If one article has multiple links that are off-site, that’s great. But if all or most of them link to the same website, chances are it’s a parent company that’s sharing in the wealth of the traffic and ads. With sources, it’s all about quality, not quantity. You can also use sites like FactCheck.org, Snopes.com, and PolitiFact.com to really get a deep search going.

Tip #3: Get to Googling
A quick Google search can get you far. Not only can you find if specific websites are known for leanings and skews, but also if the company is owned by a larger parent company, and if THAT company has any specific leanings. If the President of a company is shelling out big for specific investments, you can bet the businesses under him are footing at least part of that bill, too, in one way or another.

So now you know the dirty little secret of Fake News… it’s trying to dupe you in way more subtle ways than just false information.

Remember, advertising isn’t just about endorsing a product you buy on the shelves.

The advertising being done may be to endorse a person, company, or even a point of view. If you’re buying what they’re selling, it’s always a good idea to do a little digging… whether it’s a physical item, or a piece of news. And if you need any help selling some pieces of information yourself, give us a call. We do PR, too.