But instead we are debating discussing and reporting on absolute nonsense and part of that is because people don’t really think that we’re doing the right thing that we in journalism are doing what we’re supposed to be doing. This is fed by a concept, the traditional media which is what I’m referring to the places I’ve worked, the CNN’s, the CTV’s, the Al Jazeeras, the MSNBCs and NBCs, the traditional media perpetrates this elite consensus that questions some assumptions more than it questions other assumptions that somehow what we do is removed from the reality of people’s lives, that we do our work in an ivory tower while news actually happens where people live.
People in my industry say that their goal is to hold power to account and yet on the Friday of inauguration I was watching newscasters on national news dressed to attend the inaugural balls of the President of the United States. The same thing happens on the night of the White House Correspondents Dinner where we cover the fact that we’re all at these events. Why do journalists try so hard to get themselves invited into the corridors of power and when we’re there why are we there not representing the people but rather there as invited guests eating the catered food?
I get it. Traditional journalism is flawed. I get it. We have some things to fix but I’m worried that what we’re doing and what fake news is helping us do is throw the baby out with the bathwater and that’s dangerous, because we are uniquely equipped and resourced to hold power to account even if you don’t believe we do it all the time.
On the first Sunday after the inauguration on Meet the Press I don’t know if how many of you ever watch Meet the Press but it’s on NBC, my colleague Chuck Todd hosts it and Kellyanne Conway went up, you may have seen this clip. She went up there and told Chuck that there are alternative facts. We’d never really heard that term before and Chuck very quickly responded that alternative facts are not facts.
But part of the problem is that when the President of the United States is encouraging his supporters to believe that the media is not just out of touch or somewhat ineffective but it’s actually lying, it causes the problem and that’s just one in a range of problems that are caused by this fake news phenomenon. At its lowest level it’s a time suck, it confuses you, it causes you to spend your time trying to discern between fake news and real news and I think over time it can blunt your ability to actually do so.
I’ll give you an example. A BuzzFeed study said that in 2016, of the top 20 fake news stories on Facebook they had 8.7 million shares, comments, reactions. Of the top 20 real news stories by major news organizations they had 1.7 million fewer. So fake news is crowding out real news. It means that journalists like me instead of following other stories and giving you new journalism and telling you stories about new things we’re busy debunking myths. And that’s part of the problem that we’ve got.
And it’s about money initially. It started to be about money and advertising and let me tell you how it used to work in the world of money and advertising.
In the old days, a newspaper ad department person would meet with a real person at an advertising agency who was working on behalf of an advertiser or a company that wanted to be associated — one of their brand associated with the news outlets brand. But none of this happens anymore.
Now algorithms determine the ads you see on the internet based on your surfing habits or your shopping habits and based on the cookies that are on the sites that you use. So you get information based on where you surf. And if you start consuming fake news you’ll actually end up with more of it.
Let me explain to you how these people make money. Let’s say that you saw a story show up somewhere in your feed that Justin Bieber is moving to Kingston, doesn’t really matter whether you like Justin Bieber or you don’t, if he’s moving to Kingston you’re going to you’re going to check the story, you’re going to click on the story. And they count on the fact that you do.
So you’re going to go to this absolutely made-up story but there’ll be an ad near it. And as a result the advertiser pays the owner of that website a certain amount of money, a fraction of a cent and they do this lots of times.
Then let’s say this purveyor of fake news takes that story and changes Kingston to one of any of 100 different towns around the country so now everybody’s clicking on this story and that they change the name of Justin Bieber to one of a hundred different other celebrities. This is how it happens. Everybody clicks on these things. This is how they end up making money and it’s dangerous.