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What Fake News Problem?

When I was younger (a lot younger, egad.), I had a rather insightful teacher who would constantly tell me that I was free to make my own decisions, but that I wasn’t free to choose their consequences. It’s something that’s always stayed with me. It’s also one of the best lessons I’ve ever been taught. It’s given me a lot of pauses along life’s journey. I rarely make big decisions without evaluating all the possible unintended consequences.

It’s funny how old lessons have a way of turning back around to re-educate us again somewhere down the line.

Here we are, amidst a fake news crisis, debating how we got here and how we can get out of the conundrum. But what decisions did I make along the way to contribute to the problem?

For me, as both a marketer and an independent publisher, I’m pretty sure I played a role in the “fake news” problem. In fact, I know I played a role.

The general approach of “anything for a click” has contributed to the problem. So has the “anything to lower my cost per outcome” method, and the “anything to help maximize ad spends” tactic. It’s these kinds of mantras that I tossed around daily (albeit subconsciously most of the time) as both a publisher and a marketer, but the consequences of those decisions weren’t exactly something that I was doing much thinking about.

Now that I’ve realized it, I’m kind of disappointed in myself.

I can’t help but feel like I’ve directly contributed to the less-than-stellar approach to marketing online. Why are ads not being clearly denoted? Why have companies like Facebook decided to use the word sponsored instead of advertisement around its platform? Why did it take years for Google to finally drop an “ad” icon next to its leading posts in search results?

I’d posit that they did it because of the tremendous industry pressure to increase clicks, conversions, and advertising outcomes. They did it because we either told them we wanted it or because we refused to pay a “fair wage” for advertisements online. They did it because marketers created a demand for less-than-ideal practices, so platforms filled the supply with new opportunities to buy exactly what we were looking for in our marketing efforts.

Mark Cuban recently told Bloomberg that we don’t have a fake news problem, we have a misleading ad problem. It sent me reeling.

Why are ads so misleading online?

Guilty as charged, sadly.

Written By Joshua Schnell

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