The Malaysian government has been exposed for allegedly hiring columnists to discredit its political opponents, and paidContent.org is pointing one finger at the internet. paidContent‘s Jeff John Roberts specifically cites: “how much easier it’s become to place such propaganda thanks to online journalism’s insatiable appetite for content.” Roberts adds “in their rush to pump up their content, sites may be dropping their screening standards.”
I have to agree that the race to post content first can compromise fact-checking specifically. While free and low-cost internet publishing tools have made it possible for content creators of all kinds to generate and share content, it’s also softened the vetting system required to confirm the veracity of a post.
Here’s one example of, I’m sure, many: Back in ’08 at the height of the heated primary contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, satirist / artist Yazmany Arboleda created exhibits that exploited stereotypes associated with the then-Presidential candidates. In a Catfish-esque twist, it was discovered that the Leah Keller Gallery, where the exhibits were purportedly on show, does not exist — but not before the New York Daily News wrote about it.
Our 24-hour news cycle has created an addiction for fresh content that professional and independent news sources struggle to supply. Yet, to remain solvent, online news sources are under pressure to get on the first page of Google’s results page on the topic readers are searching for. Since Google serves up results based on a site’s authority (determined by number of page views, visitors to the site, and consistent maintenance of these numbers among other criteria), it can become a vicious cycle of churning out content that isn’t verified (not to mention one of the reasons we often see the same story written about in every media outlet). Add this pressure to the low pay many writers and editors receive to create content, and you increase the potential for corruption.
Obviously, there’s no excuse for deliberately creating and disseminating compromised content, but this is a real issue we’ll have to figure out in this new world of news writing.