Fake News, Facebook and the advertising dollar

By January 12, 2018Social Media

What digital marketers need to know today about Facebook’s “Fake News” assault.

by Alexander Hilton, Associate Director


I have some pity for Facebook. The election of Donald Trump and the on-going Russia investigation have kept them in the crosshairs on the issue of fake news. An innovative forum whose reason for existence is (mostly) unmoderated, user-generated content has found itself held responsible for failing to make a value judgment on that content.

However, with Mark Zuckerberg announcement, they’re having a stab at doing something about it. But given the relatively arbitrary differentiation between fake news and other content, Facebook’s efforts will impact online marketers far more than Russian content farms.

So what are they actually doing?

“It’s all about the news feed”

When it comes to propagating content on Facebook, it’s all about the news feed – the core mechanism by which people receive content from each other. The approach the social media giant is taking is not a qualitative assessment of the veracity of the content (though wouldn’t that be a lovely AI project?) but an adjustment of the algorithm that determines what is a “meaningful social interaction” (MSI). The more MSIs associated with a piece of content, the more likely it is to appear on your news feed.

The changes are simple, subtle and they come down to this. No longer will liking a post – or even leaving a comment – be considered MSIs. This comes with an enhanced weighting for content that you share to your timeline, or where people have replied to your comment.

The interesting effect for marketers is that if you are using Facebook content to promote awareness of a brand, it’s not going to get newsfeed traction unless it incites high quality reactions. This is not beyond the skills of the better content producers, but it requires an understanding of consumer behaviour through and beyond the experience of that content. You’re not going to get that from a cheap content house.

More than ever it will be necessary to think mobile. Not just because 98% of Facebook consumption is in that format – that’s not changing this weekend – but because fingering a thumbs-up icon will no longer be the volume action that promotes your content. What will your content do to trigger someone to think and leave a response that triggers other responses in a form of recursive incitement?

Do you have a team that knows the difference between content that is “liked” with one screen touch and content that is shared with two? Because that’s suddenly going to become very important. In principle, your content production budgets are going to have to rise.

The Russian fake news farmer (more likely a Macedonian teenager) has the same problem with different resources. The content is definitively lurid and unconstrained by the truth so the producer has a creative free hand. But creating “sock-puppet” social media accounts to comment and reply to comments is an immaterial cost where human time is available and cheap in relation to your revenues. This behaviour is probably beyond the pale for the average content marketer, resorting instead to the more defensible services of social media influencers, but this too has a cost. A cost that will likely rise if this well-intended algorithm change leads to greater demand for such services.

Confronted with an increased cost of content production and an increased cost of promoting content, you may as well just buy Facebook ads. But I’m sure that wasn’t their goal in the first place.


Alexander Hilton

Author Alexander Hilton

Associate Director at DREP

More posts by Alexander Hilton

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