Fake news, fake clicks: What newsrooms can learn from the ad world’s battle with fraud

The industry could learn a key objective from ad tech’s battle with fraud: Dis-incentivizing fraudsters.

Las Vegas was witness to a shooting spree on Sunday (October 1, 2017) with over 500 injured. Resident Geary Danley was identified as the shooter and has been known to have harbored links with extremist groups.

This headline on the morning news feed across Google and Facebook swallowed me whole, making me instinctively click on it. A few hours later, as I continued to follow the developments on the tragedy, I discovered that the earlier post had been removed from search results, long after being paraded as a “Top Story” and a “Trending Topic” across social media. This misinformation — which had gone viral — was supposedly from online forums that are notorious for internet hoaxes and propaganda.

Fake news, fake clicks – basically fraud, was not a totally outrageous phenomenon to a mobile marketing professional like me. It could perhaps use some inspiration from the ad world’s battle with fraud.

But before I delve into the similarities with ad fraud and plausible learnings that can be adopted, let’s understand the motive behind fake news. In one common use case, misinformation and hoaxes are aimed at driving traffic, and subsequent clicks on the website that can ultimately drive ad revenues. In the larger scheme of things, misinformation could be used to further political propaganda and narratives.


Parallel #1 – The Means of Defrauding
Fundamentally, fake clicks have been the biggest driver of fraud across media, whether news (read “social”) or ad fraud. While fake clicks on news articles are aimed at manufacturing traffic, fake clicks on mobile ads are directed at maximizing the chances of stealing precious ad dollars.

Parallel #2 – Need for Regulating the Giants
At a macro-level, both newsrooms and ad worlds have been plagued by the duopoly of Facebook and Google, with self-prescribed standards and half-measures in adhering to industry benchmarks. This has consistently eroded trust within the advertising industry. Akin to the advertising world, the Facebook-Google duopoly owns the dissemination of news to billions of users across the globe and has been responsible for promoting misinformation and manipulating people’s views. It’s a huge antitrust problem — and requires the regulation of the biggest of the biggest technology platforms.

Parallel #3 – User-Generated vs Curated Content
As social platforms with user generated content, Google and Facebook have the responsibility of guaranteeing the authenticity of news and to shut the gates on fake content. On the advertising front, social platforms have found it extremely difficult to control ad placements for reputed brands on multiple occasions. As more user generated content is created, more advertising opportunities arise. This, however, also means that the next ad request could be alongside unsafe content such as an ISIS video or a marijuana drug.

The media industry must battle fake news by deriving inspiration from the fundamental objective of ad tech’s battle with fraud — weeding out fraud by dis-incentivizing fraudsters. Here’s how:

  • Global Blacklist: The ad tech ecosystem works with a global blacklist of fraudulent device IDs and IPs that are constantly updated and excluded from ad campaigns. Similarly, newsrooms and technology platforms, with a list of known fake news sources such as 4chan and Sputnik, can nip fake news at source.
  • Third-party Ratification: Technology Third party players in the ad tech ecosystem lead the efforts to establish the veracity of engagement driven by ad tech platforms. While distribution channels or tech platforms may not be able to drive ratification independently, they should employ third party fact-checkers before showcasing content as ‘top stories.’
  • Delve deep into data: Newsrooms should delve deep into data to understand fake news patterns. Data around the source of fake news, the time and country of origin and nature of headlines. Data, along with a layer of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, is the powerhouse of all anti-fraud measures in the ad tech world.
  • Regulate the Giants: As social and video platforms continue to grow as the major channel for users to access news, it is time that the technology platforms – GooFace – were treated as newsrooms themselves and brought under the ambit of antitrust laws.

Jayesh Easwaramony leads the InMobi business in Asia Pacific, Middle East and Africa. Prior to his current position, he led business development for the Asia Pacific region for three years. Before InMobi, Jayesh worked with Frost and Sullivan as the leader of its TMT practice. He has advised several large companies in the mobile and media space including Samsung, SKT, Axiata and Telkom. He was widely respected for his views on the ICT industry having provided several interviews to CNBC, BBC, Channel News Asia and leading publications. Follow Jayesh Easwaramony on Twitter.

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