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Fake News on Social Media Prompting Advertisers to Reconsider

March 27th, 2018   ||    by Callie Wheeler   ||    No Comments

Online, on the radio, on your TV—stories of fake news on social media abound. From Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election to fringe groups promoting dishonest rumors, it was only a matter of time until this new reality had consequences for social media platforms beyond a mere public outcry.

Now, that time has come: an influential advertiser is threatening to take its money elsewhere if the platforms don’t clean house.

Unilever Speaks Out

At an Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) conference in February 2018, Keith Weed, chief marketing officer at Unilever, called out social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube as environments that enable hate and division. While the companies have wooed advertisers with their audiences and inventory, Weed noted the digital dangers are beginning to outweigh the benefits, according to Variety.

And Unilever’s annual marketing budget of about $9.8 billion makes it an influential voice in an ongoing conversation about content on social media sites.

The Advertiser’s Problem

As Weed pointed out, the platforms’ issues ultimately become the advertisers’ as well, as consumers question brands’ placement next to false stories and associate ads with site content. Weed identified racism, sexism, fake news, and hateful speech as issues the media industry must address, through advertisers stopping advertising and publishers not publishing.

Others in the industry have made similar connections, with Forbes calling on advertisers to work with platforms to create solutions for fake news. But making this happen could be an uphill battle.

Lies Spread Quickly

A recent MIT study found that lies (i.e., rumors, hoaxes, fake news) spread on Twitter faster than the truth, with falsehoods 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than the truth. The Atlantic reported how the study found falsehoods on every subject perform “better” than truth, but in no subject more so than politics. While the study focused on Twitter, its implications were for every social media site—a business that runs on engaging or provocative content carries with it the risk of promoting fake news.

As Unilever recognized, this issue carries with it concerns and questions for the advertising industry. In a situation where many brands are not in control of their ads’ placements to the same degree as before, do a brand’s ads indicate approval of the site on which they’re published or the content with which they’re seen?

Issues like fake news on social media, inappropriate content, and lack of control of placement may cause advertisers to consider other mediums like local television advertising, where the benefits outweigh the risks.

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