As a marketing expert and digital marketing specialist, I feel obligated to tell you how big tech companies are selling out their integrity: accepting money instead of ferreting out corruption and disinformation.
To learn about the details, read How Facebook and Google Fund Global Disinformation in the MIT Technology Review.
I’ll summarize what they say because it’s important, as an online user, that you know what’s going on.
An MIT Technology Review investigation, based on expert interviews, data analyses, and documents that were not included in the Facebook Papers, has found that Facebook and Google are paying millions of ad dollars to bankroll clickbait actors, fueling the deterioration of information ecosystems around the world.
The article prove this point, noting the launch of Facebook’s “Instant Articles” program in 2015. Only three years later, Facebook reported “paying out $1.5 billion to publishers and app developers…[who were providing Instant Articles content]. By 2019, that figure had reached multiple billions.”
Instant Articles appear on new websites that were created for only this purpose: provding multiple sites where misinformation can be spread:
Early on, Facebook performed little quality control on the types of publishers joining the program. The platform’s design also didn’t sufficiently penalize users for posting identical content across Facebook pages—in fact, it rewarded the behavior. Posting the same article on multiple pages could as much as double the number of users who clicked on it and generated ad revenue.
Facebook wasn’t the only player succumbing – and then funding – this wildfire spread of misinformation. Google has done the same with AdSense.
Its AdSense program fueled the Macedonia- and Kosovo-based farms that targeted American audiences in the lead-up to the 2016 presidential election. And it’s AdSense that is incentivizing new clickbait actors on YouTube to post outrageous content and viral misinformation.
The issue is this: Facebook and Google have created algorithms that promote the content that is getting viewers and engagement, an “information ecosystem where content that goes viral on one platform will often be recycled on the other to maximize distribution and revenue.”
What’s of little or no importance to them is whether or not the content is true or real.
What can you do?
Knowing what’s going on in digital marketing, which is what I do for a living (!), I feel sad, frustrated, and angry about this. After all, I use these platforms every day!
What can I do about it? Here’s how I’ve changed my own behavior:
- I resist being tempted by clickbait. This is hard, but instead of clicking on that oh-so-tempting link to some juicy gossip, or to read something that sounds unbelievable to begin with, I stop for a moment and Google the topic. That usually ends my temptation right there, when I find out it isn’t true or real.
- I check or verify before I “like” or share. Instead of liking or sharing something that makes my blood boil, I open another tab to verify it. I find that snopes.com is a great resource for finding out if something is real or fake.
- I don’t expect much of social media channels. I think one of the best stand-up jokes I heard recently was someone saying they responded to a Facebook post, saying “Oh! You’re right about that. I’ve changed my mind.” It doesn’t happen, so I bang my head against a wall, trying to change someone’s mind.
- I don’t add fuel to their fire. There’s a lot going on in the world that is upsetting, and rightfully so, from small children being gunned down at school to the war in Ukraine. Emotions are running high. And posting or responding to a post can feel like a good way to vent, sharing my frustration and anger.
But I know that my tirade won’t change anything. And I know that, if I do vent, all I’m doing is signaling the bad players that they can get a reaction out of me – which is exactly what they want.
I refuse to give them the fuel for their fire.
It’s important for each of us to know that our emotions are financing the “bad guys.” Because, in the end, we’re the best ones to shut it down – by changing our behavior.
I’m more optimistic about us being able to do that than Facebook or Google fixing it themselves. And I’m not sure they even want to.
To learn more about others who are trying to make a difference, take a look at the Integrity Institute. It’s a community of people who used to work at big tech who left to “do the right thing.”
I’ve signed up, and I hope you will, too.