The media and news landscape last year and earlier this year have been dominated and defined as the rise of title link-baiting sites such as Upworthy, ViralNova, and BuzzFeed. You definitely would have come across these websites, with hard-to-miss headlines, such as This Is What Happens When You Wear Your Genes To The Gym. Not That You Have A Choice., or He Stopped Her At A Train Station And Told Her She Was Beautiful. That’s When The Nightmare Began.
With the smart word play of titles, these sites exploded in popularity and growth in page views. Upworthy, the social sharing site for emotionally resonant videos and links, was also named the “fastest growing media site of all time” by Fast Company. It generated over 8.7 million unique monthly visitors in its first six months, mostly through social sharing on Facebook.
Then, in December 2013, Facebook announced a change to the algorithm it uses to determine what kinds of updates (“stories”) users see in the News Feeds. In a blog post, Facebook said it wanted to feature more “high quality” content and fewer “meme photos”. That same month, Upworthy’s traffic dropped 25%, and in January this year, it dropped even further.
For a while, Facebook users started to see less Upworthy-ish content.
However, recently, there is a rise of a new class of content category: Hoax News Site.
The idea is simple, these news site allows you to set your own title, description as well as the fake news source. It then creates an article with a news layout which you can share on your social networks. Here are some examples:
Singapore To Get 8 More Annual Leaves Irregardless of Industry:
Luis Suarez Fails After Match Drug Test (773,600 pageviews)
Legal Age To Drink Has Change To 25 As Of August 2014 (8,567,291 pageviews)
When you share the news, it would appear as if the news are from legitimate news site such as Yahoo or ABC News.
With all these hoax news going around, it further dilutes all the quality of the contents which are going around the Internet. Content legitimacy will increasingly be a question that readers will need to struggle with every time they come across a news article.
Actual news will now be competing with these hoax news sites for eyeballs; and because these hoax news sites have more sensationalized headlines, readers tend to click more on them.
So who wins and who loses? In the short run, these hoax news sites which managed to get high page views would win in terms of advertising revenue; but in the long run, these hoax news sites would cause readers to be wary about news content (whether it’s legitimate or not), subsequently hurting the media landscape. Everyone loses.
So what can be done?
Media and news sites mostly rely on advertisements to survive. Advertising revenue, in turn, is directly proportionate to the number of page views they get. As legitimate news sites compete with the increasing number of hoax news sites for page views, their revenue source is threatened. While there are ways around it, such as introducing new business units for new revenue sources, the continued support from readers are getting more and more crucial to ensure that legitimate news sites continue to deliver consistent and accurate quality news.