The term “fake news” has been around for, let’s say, a few months. That quick hit of validation, that emotional response, that old-school model of propaganda that fuels its popularity—it’s been an interesting ride as the world comes to terms with the idea that, thanks to the internet, emotions travel a whole lot faster than facts. The professionals on Madison Avenue have known this for decades, and that manipulation of emotion at the expense of truth is a huge reason why the advertising industry still gets such a bad rap. Fake news is a new phrase, but a very old idea.
So how did things get so bad?
Communication is built on two things: emotional response and supporting data. You can’t have one without the other or the whole thing breaks down. Too much emotion, you get fake news. Not enough, you lose any human relatability. We see a lot of both. The balance is really hard to find, but it’s critical that we get it right. We have a responsibility in our society to make decisions for the good of people, and that’s not happening because of imbalances in both directions.
Stakeholders rely too heavily on data on a daily basis. Boards care quarter to quarter—there just aren’t many where their priorities are three, five, or ten year growth—so data is a great way to justify short-term decisions. And it’s an even better way to ensure that those decisions fall on their face because they’re reactions to numbers, not people. But if you’re getting into fights on Facebook by reacting to the headlines of articles you haven’t read, yeah, that lack of data isn’t helping either.
So is there any hope?
Yes, possibly. It’s actually been pretty amazing watching the response to this newly named confusion. The discipline that’s going into actual fact finding again is so refreshing. People missed objective truth—they forgot how much they liked it, and it’s a safe (and maybe optimistic) bet that journalism school enrollment will be up double digits in the fall in response to this craziness. Humans make a lot of mistakes, and this has been a big one, but we’re also pretty good at adapting and overcoming obstacles. If we continue to relentlessly demand truth over convenience, the world will be a better, clearer place for everyone.
Now let’s all go check our news feeds. That’ll solve everything.