The fake news economy

Fake news bloggers are symbiotic, not parasitic, to news platforms.

Fake news bloggers are symbiotic, not parasitic, to news platforms. What I meant is that a small portion of the audience might consider them parasitic: they’re a nuisance. But a larger part of the audience, the one that clicks through the bait and shares the fake headline, loves the fake news. It likes the feeling it gets when it shares a headline which, thought false, reflects their worldview. And the news platforms love that part of their audience.

Let’s analyze the problem.

Someone blogging fake news might make as much as $12k per month, almost three times as much as the average journalist writing about real stories. Teens in Macedonia make tons of money posting false news pro-Trump. Many rogue writers got into the business of writing fake news, to profit from the traffic derived from the naive users who click on their headlines.

What is the reaction of the newspapers who are in the centuries-long business of printing real news? Some of them began writing fake or trivial news as well, to be displayed on their online version only. For example, Italy’s second and sixth newspaper got into the habit of writing articles with clearly false news or information and/or with headlines adjusted in such a way that do not reflect reality anymore, but sound more sensational, thus driving more user traffic. Meanwhile, the owners of the newsfeed where such fake headlines are displayed, such as Facebook or Twitter, are doing nothing to block them.

Why are we assisting to such a pollution of the journalistic activity?

The first naive explanation is that the people most likely to click on the headline are also the most likely to later click on the headline. For this reason, news providers such as Newspapers or news deliverers such as Facebook do not care so much as they would be expected to about alienating the “serious users” expecting only real news, because such users are also the less likely to bait to the advertisements and thus to generate profits for them.

Now let’s examine the discovery algorithms employed by social medias. For example, many intellectual users have been complaining that Twitter Moments only display news about Kim Kardashian and similar gossips; those same users are surprised that Twitter’s algorithm is unable to devise their true interests.
There are two options here to be believed. The first one is that Twitter’s algorithms are indeed so unsophisticated to be unable to understand what a user wants to be shown. But can we really believe that a large tech company in 2016 would not be able to solve such a problem? We are left with the second option: that for Twitter it is more rentable to display low-quality clickbaits to all its users rather than to filter those out.

The sad truth is that when we accepted the gift of the free internet we also expected that most of its products would remain indefinitely free to use; but as we know nothing owned by a for-profit company can truly be free, so we signed an unwritten contract that stated that we would pay for it with our attention. 
The impact of the digital revolution on the news industry has been the death of the redacted newspapers in favor of a click democracy where the baits took the power of populist dictators.