Amid all the hype and hysteria about fake news, there is little discussion about its close cousin, fake marketing. Both practices run on the same rails, utilizing digital platforms and algorithms to game reality. Marketing has fake reviews and fictitious inflated follower counts, news has fraudulent stories promoted by bots that eventually find real humans that actively consume and share. This process reinforces algorithmic interaction and human believability. If a real person shares a story about child sex rings being run out of a pizza parlor (Pizzagate), it begins to gain author authority no matter what the source.
The marketing parallel is the raft of fake reviews and gaming of the review process what has become a critical part of the digital path to purchase. Reviews are suffering from a trust crisis as they are being gamed in similar patterns. Fake reviews both positive and negative are created and managed by some of the very systems that are supposed to be making reviews easier and more transparent. Attempting to build commercial viability, media, marketing and content have become a hot mess that people now have to wade through to get actual information, news and entertainment.
“Trusted institutions of the past have become the click-bait of the present.”
There is zero chance that these tools won’t be misused by marketers, political groups and everyday people alike. Just as people are duped by Nigerian Princes seeking to deposit money in their bank account, they are fooled by reviews from platforms that hide bad reviews for restaurants while promoting good reviews for those that pay for their services. They respond to the direct mail piece for a free cruise and are also panicked by automated phone calls from the IRS threatening arrest.
Do people blame the telephone and mailbox for scams? No, but Facebook sure gets a bad wrap. The platforms have some responsibility for managing the integrity of their content but so do those using them. Social Media by its nature reflects the motivations of those that use it, both good and bad. Expecting social media channels to be any different from any other media form is unrealistic. Traditional channels shaking a finger at social channels should seek to clean their own houses first, as the same manipulative forces are hard at work there as well.
Like humans, algorithms can be gamed. Unlike current algorithms, humans can actually use their brains to dig deeper and make judgements that might conflict with their prewired assumptions. My antenna is always up when I see all unicorn farts and rainbows for reviews. No one is perfect and a lack of critical reviews is an easy marker for gaming just as an overweight for negative feedback. Algorithms are decent at spotting this too but still can be manipulated. Search Optimization has suffered the same fate. Bad actors manipulate search to gain ‘top results’ for their clients which quickly discover that once the gaming stops, so do their results.
Thwart the algos!! READ AND TALK TO PEOPLE!
“A person only learns in two ways: one by reading, and the other by association with smarter people.” — Will Rogers
The best way to form a great opinion is to consume a variety of content. Only using a single source is guaranteed to limit the potential for group thought and confirmation bias. One of the challenges of digital media is that it's too easy to find information that simply reinforces what you already believe. While it might make you feel better, it is pretty easy to game.
Talk to People With Different Opinions
We tend to surround ourselves with people like us. Some research show that you are the sum total of your five closest friends. They are all great folks but try talking to some others, especially those with opposing viewpoints to get a broader perspective and some new data points to consider. Algorithms seeks to predict your behavior and will create a cocoon of sameness in your media is not fed with new nodes occasionally.
In the words (and writings) of my business partner Ted Rubin, “Learn to Discern.” Not only for your own mind, but for the many digital minds seeking to persuade you.