What You Can Do To Stop Fake News, Ads: Boycott
Before you sit through the Senate hearings (or read Sheryl Sandberg’s 10-page self-congratulatory opening remarks), I hope you read this BuzzFeed story about how researchers from the advocacy group the Campaign for Accountability just spent $35 on fake Google ads (made up of pictures and copy previously used by the Russians to try and influence users). They weren’t flagged or rejected and generated more than 20,000 impressions and some 200 click-throughs.
I realize that Sheryl is no longer responsible for Google ads, but her rambling “lookit what we did!!!” in Washington sounds remarkably similar to how Google defends how it is doing its “gosh-darn it, very hardest” to stop all of this.
But they can’t and they won’t. That is because to really do it would mean revealing the “secret” algorithms that are at the heart of how and why they push this story over that one and serve you this ad over that one. You know, the ones that allow advertisers to redline neighborhoods or reveal that you have a medical condition you thought nobody knew about.
Early reports indicate that Congress was less than impressed by FANG efforts to date, and might act if all of this continues. Which, as the Campaign for Accountability shows us, is more than likely to happen.
Critics have pointed out that early in their evolution, the FANG companies were acutely aware of the power to persuade they were building — and rather than anticipate what could happen, focused instead on rapid expansion, how to make their platforms more addicting, and raking in the ad dollars.
I am not enough of a black-box geek to lay out exactly what the platforms should do to eliminate fake news and propaganda ads, but I am here to remind you that as part of the advertising community, every dollar you spend on their platforms supports their ability to keep doing what they are doing, while window-dressing the problem on Capitol Hill. If just a handful of you bigger spenders would announce that you are pulling your ads until you see some real improvement, I think that might just spark a change.
There is at this very moment a debate among major companies about whether it is in their best interest to take positions on emerging social issues. Shortly we will see how Nike’s new campaign plays out, and if the risk is worth it. You have to at least admire its willingness to piss off the NFL with that Kaepernick ad.
You might not see the disinformation of social media as an important issue, but if you consider that an astronomical number of people (sadly) get their news primarily from Facebook, you have to look at it through the same lens as if The New York Times, CBS News or your local community newspaper were similarly compromised.
Clearly, patriotism is not enough of an incentive for the FANG leaders to act. But you can be sure their bottom line is. And you can do your part by shifting your spend, until we see something more from them than talk.