Fake News Is More Pervasive Than You Think!

Fake news has become a cause du jour.

A hand-wringing, holier-than-thou, accusation-laden, finger-pointing cause.

Yet, let’s be honest…clearly there is 100% fake news out there, as there has always been.

  • Some of it is propaganda (a la Orwell’s 1984), has no basis in anything, with a desire to disrupt in big and dangerous ways, and the Sherlock Holmeses of the world are immersed in trying to discover the truth about the fake.
  • Some of it is fake for fake’s sake…often financially driven and with no basis in ideology or desire to effect anything but a bank account.
  • Some of it is ideological, is focused on specific people or events, seems plausible and is targeted towards advancing a cause.

The issue is neither right nor left wing, old or new media, digital vs analog…it is simply about what we as listeners or readers or watchers are ready to believe and open to accept.

If we are truly honest and open, the single biggest contention is that my fake news might actually be your truth…Read The New York Times everyday…whatever your politics… and I guarantee that no matter your view, this point will be made.

Frankly, therefore, I don’t believe that Facebook or Google can control fake news the way they need to or control hatred and terrorism, racism and religious bias, homophobia, hurtful pornography and anything else that is abhorrent to our, yes, view of people being created equal and having the right to pursue happiness, if you will. Knee-jerker alert: Western view? Not so clear, but in any case, the companies in question are…so if you use them, you are subject to the rule.

As I have written before, we are our own enemy here. We need to educate ourselves and our children and grandchildren in how to think, understand, parse, judge and otherwise separate truth from half-truth and outright fiction.

And it seems that the FTC (Federal Trade Commission of the United States) has, maybe inadvertently, entered the fray with what I consider to be an important salvo in limiting “fake news.”

The celebrity endorsement has, I imagine, been a part of our human experience, since…well…people looked to see who made Moses’ sandals, Arthur’s sword or Abe Lincoln’s stovepipe hat.

In the UK, having the stamp of supplier to the Royal Family has always been a verifiable source of celebrity endorsement, and of course, we know that sports teams and athletes get paid huge sums to endorse and wear products.

And throughout the ages, no doubt, there have been famous…true…stories of celebrities…who advertising and WOM identified with specific products, services, restaurants, hotels, cars…whatever…getting caught out when they were seen drinking another cola, driving a different brand of car, wearing another type of athletic shoe…you get the point and know what I mean.

The FTC is cracking down on “influencers” — pop stars, athletes and musicians who promote products on social media without disclosing that they are being paid for their endorsements. The FTC said Wednesday it had sent some 90 warning letters to influencers and marketers reminding them that they must “clearly and conspicuously disclose their relationship to brands” when paid to promote them on Instagram or other social media. It marked the first time the FTC has specifically warned the celebrities themselves. The warnings come in response to a complaint filed last September by Public Citizen and three affiliated watchdog organizations that asked the federal agency to investigate ties between 113 influencers and their products for possible noncompliance with disclosure regulations. “The ‘influencer’ industry on Instagram represents one of the most prominent and ethically egregious violations of FTC policy,” said the complaint filed by the watchdog groups. Cosmetics and beauty companies appeared to be among the worst offenders, Public Citizen said in its complaint, but it also questioned fashion houses, footwear makers, alcoholic beverages and energy drinks. The targets of the complaint included such boldface names Kardashian, Rihanna, Victoria Beckham, Vanessa Hudgens, Lindsay Lohan and Jenny McCarthy.

Fake news?

I’d say so.

The rules are very specific and were put in place to make sure that as we ogled their Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook posts, we would know who was paid and who wasn’t.

Over the past five years – the length of time since the last update – the FTC has issued warnings, but has not taken any real action against brands that have violated their guidelines. This update, however, may be an indication that they’re going to stop simply slapping wrists and start truly cracking down. And an ominous statement issued by the FTC may confirm this suspicion: “We have given guidance. You are all on notice.”

Read carefully, this is, in fact, fake news as bad and potentially damaging as any. From AdAge:

Snapchat star DJ Khaled raves about Ciroc vodka. Fashion lifestyle blogger Cara Loren Van Brocklin posts a selfie with PCA Skin sunscreen. Internet personality iJustine posts Instagrams from an Intel event. Missing from their messages: any indication about whether they’ve been paid. This uptick in celebrities peddling brand messages on their personal accounts, light on explicit disclosure, has not gone unnoticed by the U.S. government. The Federal Trade Commission is planning to get tougher: Users need to be clear when they’re getting paid to promote something, and hashtags like #ad, #sp, #sponsored — common forms of identification — are not always enough. The agency will be putting the onus on the advertisers to make sure they comply, according to Michael Ostheimer, a deputy in the FTC’s Ad Practices Division. It’s a move that could make the posts seem less authentic, reducing their impact. “We’ve been interested in deceptive endorsements for decades and this is a new way in which they are appearing,” he said. “We believe consumers put stock in endorsements and we want to make sure they are not being deceived.”

And of course, despite the hard work at making it look so real and organic there is always the f***up. From Digiday:

Influencer marketing continues to heat up on Instagram thanks to the platform’s new algorithm that rewards brands’ relationships with social media stars. But brands and the influencers themselves often run into problems in the still-nascent area thanks to miscommunication, inexperience and conflicting objectives. There are even instances in which influencers simply copy and paste marketing instructions from the brands that they represent.

Make no mistake…if you are concerned about fake news, if you are a brand or a media outlet that has made the commitment to pull ads or limit distribution because of your commitment to your consumers and you aren’t paying attention to this form of fakery, we will never solve the problem.

An ad is an ad. We get the context. Suggesting that some celeb endorses something, simply because they love it and want to share that love is fake news at its worst.

Bottom line?

As Orson Welles once said: “Fake is as old as the Eden tree”.

We need to work at it. Invest the time in fixing what we can and teaching critical thinking for the parts we can’t…

We need to put value on truth. Because as Thomas Paine said, “What we obtain too cheaply, we esteem too lightly.” Or as we might articulate it in our time:

“If the price is very cheap then it’s almost certainly a fake.” – David Russell

If we don’t take the time to analyze, think or otherwise question…then we get what we deserve.

What do you think?

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