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Blog post

How advertising fuels fake news

Advertising Digital news Fake news Mass media

In this second post in our blog series on 'fake news', Damian Tambini illustrates the underlying structures of the online advertising industry that make fake news lucrative.

One of the questions in the UK Parliament’s inquiry into 'fake news' asks: “Have changes in the selling and placing of advertising encouraged the growth of fake news, for example by making it profitable to use fake news to attract more hits to websites, and thus more income from advertisers?”

This question is arguably the most important the committee asks, because it invites an analysis of the economic structures that support fake news. It enables us to cut through philosophical questions about ‘what is truth’ and the political uses of the idea (e.g. by Trump)  and ask whether something has changed in the media system which would explain the apparent proliferation of “fake news”.

The graphic below summarises the money-go-round that incentivises distribution of any content that is 'shareable' and resonant, in contrast to the previous ad model that tended to support news that goes through an (expensive) process of verification or meets a quality standard.

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