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63% of All News is Fake

There’s more information available than ever before, but its accuracy hasn’t kept up with its volume. Part of the reason for this is social media has facilitated the spread of misinformation. Fake news websites that mislead people with sensational headlines pop up daily. More views, likes, and shares mean more advertising dollars. The practice of misapplied data and sensationalized headlines has become the norm in this hyper-competitive environment. Fake news is big business.

But it’s not just happening with fake news sites. Even mainstream news sources have gotten into the game. Headlines offering the “Top Six of This Thing” and “10 Reasons That Thing is Happening” have proliferated over the past year because not only are lists easy to consume, they are also easy for media to generate. These lists are often based on a single (often flawed, fake, or out-of-context) data source or designed to meet the objectives of the advertiser or bias of the audience. The lines between advertising and editorial are getting blurry.

The line between what used to clearly be satire and “real news” is already blurred. “Is that from the Onion?” is now a common response to hearing a headline.

Most people (62%) now get their news from social media, and the majority (64%) get it from just one site. Since 2013, consumer access of news from one social source has grown nearly 50%. SPOILER ALERT: It’s Facebook.

Speaking of which, did you see the iPhone 8 rumors? Wireless charging and release date of Spring 2017 instead of waiting until September as in previous releases!

(You didn’t because I just made that up.)

Nowhere has the profound effect of this behavior been as clear as their impact on the Presidential Election as people select “news” of interest to them and algorithms serve up like stories, real or not. (See previous blog post on Confirmation Bias)

The material problem of fake news is it not only rivals the volume of real news, but also gets served up as the ONLY news a person potentially sees. There’s no chance for individuals to discern what’s real and what’s fake (as in other things…cough…plastic surgery) when they have nothing to compare against. In other words, if they’re only seeing fake news, it’s real to them. Worse, journalists (air quotes) for fake news sites are encouraged to develop stories to appeal to readers’ ardent beliefs to generate likes and shares, the new currency.

The Pope is even talking about fake news! That’s how big a problem it is.

OK, so what’s the point? The point is, this type of relationship with information is now the new normal, so marketers need to decode what this means for communicating with consumers and leverage it. What it says to us is, people are lazy gatherers and don’t respond to subtlety. They don’t want to consume anything that requires having to figure anything out, even if it means receiving misinformation.

At least one brand has translated this behavior into sales: Duluth Trading Co.

They have employed this sensationalist, “in-your-face” communication style in their advertising, even going so far as to broach topics typically left to actual locker room talk, such as what your underwear does to your boy parts.

As a (bourgeoning) cultural anthropologist, I’m always excited to see consumer behavior applied to marketing messages that drive business growth. While big data is growing at about 40% annually, anthropology, evolutionary psychology, and behavior economics are garnering more and more attention as important pieces of the consumer buying decision puzzle. As more companies embrace and overlay the social sciences onto their piles of hard data, there will be more cases like Duluth Trading Co. Liberal Arts majors rejoice!

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