If there’s one takeaway from the headlines in the communications business over the past week it should be this: Misinformation makes money.
There’s a lot of discussion about the prevalence of misinformation in American society but now, the fact that it leads to enormous profits should make its way toward the beginning of the conversation. Three examples illustrate why:
First, the Facebook whistleblower. If you believe her testimony this past week over her former employer’s response (and it’s safe to say that most Americans and the politicians they elect do), you believe that Facebook wants misinformation all over your newsfeed because it’s good for business.
Second, Fox News celebrated its 25th Anniversary while, at the same time, spending airtime night after night pandering to its audience that has decided to be anti-vaccine. Anything that casts doubt on the overall safety and effectiveness of vaccines is, by definition, misinformation. Yet, the celebration by Fox News is one of ratings success and billions upon billions in profits for shareholders and the Murdoch family.
Third is one you may have missed but has big significance in the media business. Reuters reports that the “One America News” channel, which attracts an audience by perpetuating lies, such as the one that the 2020 Presidential Election was “stolen” has been propped up by AT&T as a moneymaking venture, facts be damned. Fiction, presented as news, to pander to an audience, lines pockets.
All of this at the same time that a national survey agrees one of the things we have in common as a society is that we all tend to agree that misinformation is a “problem.” Some blame the government. Some blame the media. But to understand this phenomenon, we need to be aware that misleading audiences leads directly to money.
Meanwhile, the business of news, something that is still valued by many, continues, relatively speaking, to struggle. From purely a business standpoint, false is kicking truth’s butt. The answers, if any, are complex. But the first step for all in the communications business is to understand this dynamic.
To put it simply, we need to look back to the ’90s. A movie about GenXers entering “the real world” may have put it best. Compared to misinformation, right now, Reality Bites.