Fake news was the buzzword of 2016 and Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year was even ‘post-truth’, an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’. As a digital marketer, the fake news epidemic affects you. Consumers are more sceptical than ever, and recent surveys have shown a decrease in the trust of mainstream media in the UK as a result of widespread false information. Want to avoid the damage false news can do to your affiliate business? Have a read!

WHAT IS ‘FAKE’ NEWS?

Although the concept of fake news is nothing new, it really took precedence during last year’s US election. Predominantly circulating on Facebook, completely fabricated news stories were shared and widely believed to be true by many people. Similar to propaganda, fake news distorts the truth for emotional persuasion, often as a means to get the most possible clicks to a website to boost ad revenue.

Wondering how much of an impact fake news could have actually had on the US election? 73% of Trump voters thought an article stating that a billionaire financier paid protesters to disrupt the Republican candidate’s rallies was true. Trump himself regurgitated fake news articles to his supporters, convincing them others were out to get him, thus strengthening their support.

Another report at this time found that fake election news on Facebook generated more engagement than real election stories. With 44% of Americans using Facebook as a primary news source, it’s not surprising that the platform is now taking measures against the sharing of fake news.

As part of its campaign to combat fake news, Facebook has been running ads providing tips to help users determine the legitimacy of the articles they are reading. Don’t want your content to be determined as ‘fake’? Avoid these common traits of fabricated stories:

  • Phoney or lookalike URLs
  • Sensationalised headlines
  • Incorrect spelling and grammar
  • News that no one else is reporting

Mark Zuckerberg himself even outlined the steps Facebook would be taking to end the circulation of fake news on his platform. In a recent post, he announced the measures that Facebook has already taken and is currently working on:

  • Stronger detection: “The most important thing we can do is improve our ability to classify misinformation. This means better technical systems to detect what people will flag as false before they do it themselves.”
  • Easy reporting: “Making it much easier for people to report stories as fake will help us catch more misinformation faster.”
  • Third-party verification: “There are many respected fact checking organizations and, while we have reached out to some, we plan to learn from many more.”
  • Warnings: “We are exploring labeling stories that have been flagged as false by third parties or our community, and showing warnings when people read or share them.”
  • Related articles quality: “We are raising the bar for stories that appear in related articles under links in News Feed.”
  • Disrupting fake news economics: “A lot of misinformation is driven by financially motivated spam. We’re looking into disrupting the economics with ads policies like the one we announced earlier this week, and better ad farm detection.”
  • Listening: “We will continue to work with journalists and others in the news industry to get their input, in particular, to better understand their fact checking systems and learn from them.”

SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOUR AFFILIATE BUSINESS?

Wondering how this is relevant to your affiliate business? While most affiliates’ digital marketing practices are above board, there are many who aren’t compliant and use unethical tactics to generate traffic and clicks.

Affiliate network LeadClick had to pay out $11.9 million after it was discovered their affiliates were using fake news to promote their weight loss products. The case, which dates back to 2011, started when affiliates created a number of fake news sites, posting articles making false claims about the acai berry products they were promoting. Some of the fake sites even featured the logos from major news networks.

It goes without saying that a huge factor in customer loyalty and satisfaction is trust. A single mistake could ruin the relationship between you and your customers, not to mention the legal repercussions you could face.

Facebook’s latest News Feed algorithm announcement is something, as an affiliate, you will need to be know about. At the beginning of May, the platform announced it would be slashing the number of ads and posts that link to ‘low-quality’ sites. Want your articles to be shared and promoted on Facebook? Don’t pull your facts out of thin air.

Users can report articles they believe to be ‘fake news’ and a reported article will have to be reviewed manually. If Facebook determines that the claims you make are false, it’s not likely your article will pass that review. Once an article has been flagged as ‘disputed’, it cannot be promoted on Facebook, although it can still be shared.

It’s worth considering however, that Facebook will not have the resources to fact-check every single article. Some fake-news writers have already claimed their fictional articles have gone unnoticed by Facebook; one even stated he hadn’t noticed a significant drop in traffic since his article was ‘debunked’ by the platform.

HOW EFFECTIVE IS CLICKBAIT IN THE POST-TRUTH ERA?

Don’t think you’re guilty of spreading fake news? What about clickbait? Clickbait is a powerful strategy used to entice readers to click on an article. If you are frequently posting blog content, there is a big chance you’ve used a sensationalised headline to tempt your readers.

With every algorithm update Facebook launches, the goal is always the same: encourage users to stay on the platform for longer. The platform makes around $1 billion a quarter from advertising alone; the longer it can get users to stay on its News Feeds, the more ads they can be shown, and the more ad revenue Facebook can make.

Facebook users have complained time and time again about misleading clickbait articles, and as reducing the amount of these will encourage users to stay on the platform for longer, Facebook is keen to tackle the issue. Good news for Facebook users. Bad news for affiliates. In 2014, Facebook began to reduce clickbait in the News Feed by giving lower priority to articles that had been quickly ‘unliked’ and had low levels of engagement.

In the latest bid to reduce the amount of clickbait articles circulating on Facebook, thousands of headlines have been reviewed to determine how sensationalised they are. The most commonly used clickbait phrases were determined and a system has since been developed to automatically detect them. Don’t want your page and posts reach to be decreased? Avoid using headlines which blatantly withhold information, requiring readers to click to learn details such as, ‘You Won’t Believe What Happened Next’.

Sensationalising stories is a technique that has been used by digital marketers for years, and likely won’t come to an end. Clickbait is a highly successful way of generating ad revenue and increasing site traffic, but with more and more platforms trying to tackle these fictional news traits, it’s worth considering if there are more effective, long-term techniques to use.

It is up to you as affiliate marketers to draw the line between exaggerating headlines for more clicks and intentionally deceiving your audience for the sake of a page view.