In January 2017, Facebook introduced The Journalism Project. Based on a 2016 study from the Pew Research Center, the introduction of such an initiative was overdue. Of those who responded to the question of trust in social media as a news source, only 4% of web-using U.S. adults trusted the information they get from social media “a lot”, while 30% of respondents trusted social platforms “some”.
Notwithstanding this lack of trust, reports suggest that the speed at which fake news spreads across social platforms is alarming. BuzzFeed’s Craig Silverman compiled the following chart to highlight the effect:
The allegations that social media platforms propagate fake news has forced Facebook, in its role as the most prolific publisher on the planet, to shoulder the extraordinary responsibility of weeding out the growing, and increasingly influential, occurrences of fake news. Considering that Facebook considered itself a technology company, and thus insisted that fake news was not its issue to resolve, the response to the threat of fake news has been, some have argued, a little slow.
The speed at which fake news spreads across social platforms is alarming
The Guardian, in a November 2016 article on the US elections said it best: “The company is being accused of abdicating its responsibility to clamp down on fake news stories and counter the echo chamber that defined this election.”
And, when one considers that back in 2014, Facebook’s annual revenue dwarfed that of News Corp (at US$12.5bn vs US$6.2bn), it’s easy to see how people are calling for Facebook to acknowledge its size, and clout.
As The Journalism Project takes root, and fake news is, hopefully, curbed, what will the spin-off be for brands and for us, as the marketers of these brands?
Unless users equate content on social media platforms with both credibility and authority, it is unlikely they will spend money, or back brands in their feeds. Should that eventuality come to bear, brands will seek alternative platforms for their spent.
Facebook understands that its business is wholly based on user engagement. Investment in making the platform a space for the creation of authentic content is critical to ensure its relevance and subsequent longevity.
By addressing the damage done since roughly July of last year, we have confidence that The Journalism Project will build a more robust platform for the Facebook community. And for brands, this means reaching out to people within a framework of legitimacy. But it also raises the bar in terms of content brands must develop to keep their footing.
I have long since learnt that if content has relevance within a contextual framework, it works. If it is trustworthy, and adds value, it works. But this is, by and large, the path less travelled. We frequently see the mistake of quantity winning over quality, and it’s a mistake that won’t float with increasingly stringent content algorithms coming into play.
There are rules to the social play book. And if those are understood, businesses are built on social.