The fake-news problem can’t be reduced to a mere business-model failure

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This isn’t a case study for business school. This is piling oily rags next to the fireplace and then acting surprised when the house catches fire.

OK, maybe that’s a bit of an overstatement. But a couple of days ago an essay on Medium characterized fake news as one of those “disruptive innovations” that upsets an entire market segment and sets established business models on their heads or some such. Businesses that “insist that consumers conform to their vision of what people should want will become relics of the past,” Sam Mallikarjunan argues. He contrasts them with “firms that continually engage in deep customer-centric jobs-to-be-done analyses and orient their offerings around doing that job;” the second group, he argues, will thrive.

So what’s that job? His answer is a little disturbing:

The job-to-be-done served by fake news is to reinforce existing beliefs and mitigate the immensely uncomfortable feelings caused by exposure to information that contradicts those beliefs. Fake news articles are to cognitive dissonance as decongestants are to a stuffy nose — they relieve the discomfort caused by cognitive capacity clogged with contradictory evidence.

It’s a little difficult to pinpoint where Mallikarjunan’s coming from, because he seems to recognize that there’s a difference between trading information and ideas, and just finding a better way to make widgets. On the other hand, he persists in treating the whole phenomenon as if it’s best understood as a failed business model.

And that’s just a little hard to accept …

Read the full text over at my own site.

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