Industry Blog

Lies, damn lies and fake news: can mobile operators rebuild trust for publishers?

Angelina Jolie. Miley Cyrus. Jim Carrey. A zookeeper who tried to get “comfy” with an alligator. These people supposedly died in 2016. Fake news? You bet. Many people hadn’t even heard of the term “fake news” a year ago. Now “fake news” has entered the common lexicon and that’s a major problem. It has started to erode trust in news. Given the proliferation of “fake news”, unsurprisingly, a recent poll found that 68% of people don’t trust the news they see or read anymore. Why are we faced with so many supposedly, unreliable news outlets?

Roll back the clock to 2007 in the US. Facebook was mainly used by college students. Myspace was the top social networking site and they joined forces with Bebo that year. Anyone remember them? In 2007 YouTube used up as much bandwidth as the entire internet in 2000. Snapchat, Instagram and Pinterest were unheard of. And what about news?

In 2007 most people still relied on three network evening newscasts and a local newspaper. The paper was mainly hand delivered. If you wanted to share a cat photo, most people mailed it. If you wanted to share your opinion – you screamed at the TV or wrote a letter to the editor. Many letters were even handwritten. What was significant in 2007? Steve Jobs announced the launch of the iPhone.

Oh, how the times have changed

Fast forward to the present. Smartphones changed everything. We are more distracted and frazzled than ever. We are prisoners to our phones. On average, most people are said to check their phones at least 50 times a day. We tweet every thought. Snap every emotion. Facebook every fantasy, feeling or family moment. It is estimated that each day:

  • 8 billion hours of video are shared on YouTube
  • 5 billion searches are conducted on Google
  • 2 billion web-pages are viewed
  • 500 million tweets are shared
  • 13 million audio/video calls made on Facebook Messenger

Ain’t got no time for that?

The human attention span is supposed to have decreased from 12 seconds to eight seconds since 2000. The goldfish attention span is nine seconds! There’s a plethora of apps, social networks and online platforms competing for our attention. That might explain why Columbia University found that nearly 60 percent of all social media posts are shared without being clicked on. Rather than reading a story, most people quick-scan the headline and share it. No wonder “fake news” has spread like wildfire.

Publisher problems

Publishers have had to wake up to a new reality. They have faced multiple attacks. On one side they have to deal with the growth of ad-blockers which have eaten into their revenues. Along with that, consumer habits around news consumption have changed.

Nearly 60% of media-consumption happens on mobile apps. A majority of that traffic is owned by Google and Facebook. This paradigm has almost destroyed the business model for news publishers. As a result, some publishers have adopted ‘click-bait’ headlines, with diminished news-values, to generate as many clicks and shares as possible. Yet, publishers face an uncertain future. Facebook and Google now eat up almost two thirds of all ads and gobbled up 90 percent of all growth in media spend. The spread of “fake news” has compounded the problem. A recent news analysis found that top “fake” election news stories generated more total engagement on Facebook than election stories from 19 major news outlets combined.

The role of the mobile operator

Millions of people access news on a mobile handset and network providers can play a role to provide consumers with content they can trust. Mobile operators can build strategic partnerships with publishers and provide a platform for news.

Carriers have the capability to deliver personalized content based on subscriber preferences. By working with publishers, operators can deliver content and create a consistent user experience that consumers could value. Publishers can secure revenue streams, operators can monetize content and subscribers benefit from an enhanced Quality of Experience and content they can rely on. Publishers have been looking for solutions to work around the scourge of ad-blockers and have already started trials with some mobile operators.

The end of the age of information?

Today’s netizens have had more information available at their fingertips – quite literally – than at any point in humanity. As we all now know, the internet heralded an information revolution. For many people however, it is now getting harder than ever to find information they can trust.  Much of the power to change rests in the hands of the few. That’s mainly the OTTs such as Facebook, Google, Twitter and Snapchat. Some of them are reportedly taking steps to combat “Fake news”.

Some publishers are putting the emphasis on quality content, which can help. And others are moving fast to adapt serious news and information to better fit these exploding off-platform ecosystems. As the conduits of mobile data traffic, carriers do have a role to play. And rather than being sidelined by the OTTs, network providers have access to technology that place them firmly in the driver’s seat. Ultimately, the responsibility of finding reliable news falls on the individual consumer. To continue benefiting from this golden age of information, consumers may need to adjust their own habits.