People who keep shrieking about “fake news” are overdoing it. They are now starting to come across like The Boy Who Cried Wolf. The tale of The Boy Who Cries Wolf concerns a shepherd boy who repeatedly tricks nearby villagers into thinking wolves are attacking his flock. When a wolf actually does appear and the boy again calls for help, the villagers believe that it is another false alarm and the sheep are eaten by the wolf. In later English-language poetic versions of the fable, the wolf also eats the boy.
The interesting thing about those who keep crying bloody “Fake News!” is that they are no little village boys. They are the industry big guns. Take the renowned “thought leader” Maria Ressa whose “social news network” Rappler.com is a big-bucks-funded player in the Philippines’ news media industry. In the recent Global Editors Network “GENSummit” conference in Vienna, Ressa participated in a presentation session dubbed The Platform Dilemma: How to balance truth, popularity, and engagement. In her presentation she exhibited a slide depicting what looks like some sort of network diagram. The logos and names of three popular bloggers allied with the government of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Rey Joseph “Rj” Nieto, Sass Rogando Sasot, and Mocha Uson were indicated as prominent nodes in this diagram.
A tweet issued by what looks like the GENSummit Twitter account contained a photo of this slide being presented by Ressa along with the following caption:
Brave action by @mariaressa presenting a #fakenews network which attacked her online, and shitstormed her in a very brutal way #GenSummit
This, of course, is a presentation coming from a woman who once claimed that a digital army of “trolls” and “sock puppets” have all but “weaponised” the Internet. Indeed, in that paranoid rant, Ressa went as far as blaming the algorithm used by social media sites like Facebook for encouraging the propagation of “fake news”.
What escapes “thought leaders” like Ressa who get to exchange war stories with fellow “influencers” in chi chi powows in Vienna about combatting “online trolls” who are supposedly attacking their venerable institutes of “journalism” is how their organisations, funded to the tune of mega-bucks, seem woefully unequipped to chart a path through the 21st Century’s digital jungle. Perhaps Ressa is better off schmoozing with CEOs of organisations that had built strong brands in a sea of fakery. Brands like Apple, for example, have stood out in an industry drowning in fake products. Indeed, despite a flood of cheaper clones and downright infringing copies of the iPhone, Apple has remained one of the most valuable brands in the world.
Ressa and others of her ilk screeching like temperamental brats about the “proliferation” of “fake news” should understand that the key to their future lies in a better understanding of why they are being given a run for their money by what they regard as inferior products. For that matter, are all these “alternative” news sites inferior to mainstream media news sites? That, of course depends on your definition of “inferior”.
If individual bloggers and small publishers are seen to be punching way above their class and close enough to the leagues of the likes of Rappler in terms of attracting an audience and keeping them engaged while employing less than a thousandth of the capital and resources at the disposal of the latter, then these guys must be doing something right. From a Darwinian perspective (the digital landscape of the 21st Century being the playing field of this contest for survival and domination) behemoths like ABS-CBN and the Inquirer as well as the wannabe behemoths like Rappler need to reflect on what it might take to remain big and survive in such an environment.
In short, the big guys need to ask themselves:
(1) Why are we being beaten by these little players?
(2) How can we evolve to compete with them?
Notice that the above two questions contain no judgment about the rightness or wrongness of the nature of the content at stake. Whether news is legit or “fake”, the issue here from a business perspective is brand equity. Folk like Ressa approach the problem of “fake news” the way medieval popes approached the issue of homosexuality — by framing it as some sort of “sin”.
The reality is, the market does not care whether news is legit or fake. Digital content goes viral on the potency of its emotional hooks and the strength of the brand that backs it. If Ressa believes content published by Rappler cannot stand up on the strength of its publisher’s brand, then the problem has something to do with said brand — or perhaps, the CEO of the organisation that owns and manages that brand. By framing the issue around the strawman known as “fake news”, Ressa suggests that it is the fault of the market that Rappler is sinking. Unfortunately that sort of approach to beating the competition makes her no better than the perpetrators of the Inquisition who insisted that “alternative” ways of life are sinful.
Ressa and her ilk in that girly club of social media “influencers” who continue to propagate the “fake news” outrage fad should get real and lock and load and get out there to compete rather than lock themselves inside their echo chambers of like-minded buffoons.
[NB: Parts of this article were lifted from the Wikipedia.org article The Boy Who Cried Wolf in a manner compliant to the terms stipulated in the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License that governs usage of content made available in this site.]
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