It is a problem, but not just on Facebook, which has opened the door for an unexpected platform to shine as the most reliable, if not enjoyable, social network on which to get news – Snapchat. (For an up-to-the-second look at what's happening in the world, I'll still take Twitter.)
I logged Friday morning onto Facebook, not two days after the study was published, to find this at the top of my Trending feed.
I knew it was fake, but I Googled Jason Pierre-Paul before tweeting the above screenshot to be sure.
And what do you know? The same garbage was at the top of my non-personalized search results. (Like the Facebook Trending content, Google search results are customized for logged-in users. To see non-personalized Google results, just go into Incognito Mode, or click the globe icon next to the silhouette at the top right portion of the SERP page.)
While Facebook is getting criticized, for letting these types of stories be displayed like "news," its obviously not the only victim of the Daily Snark and sites like it.
And that's not to say the Daily Snark is at fault. Like The Onion, ClickHole and other satiric outlets, there's nothing wrong with publishing fake content when it's your entire brand. (Not sure whether incorrect spellings of "Pittsburgh" are part of the act, though.)
The problem is when places like Facebook and Google – the top two referral sources for many news organizations – don't 1. label it as satirical or 2. filter it out of the areas where people expect to find factual information.
Facebook claims it's not a media company, and you could concede that point, but it does have great a team of people – many of whom have worked for major news outlets – supporting media organizations' efforts to distribute content on its respective platforms. Although it recently fired the human editors working on Trending, it still has an obligation to ensure the content is accurate.
Whether Google, which has a similar media team working with news outlets, considers itself a media company is also irrelevant, because there is a "News" section of its search results. And in this case, the fake JPP story screenshotted above showed up both in the web results and News results.
It would be acceptable to get content from The Daily Snark, The Onion, ClickHole, etc. in your web results, but not in News. And not in a Trending module that purports to share news.
Snapchat Discover is a famously exclusive media club, but it also requires significant resources (5-10+, fully-dedicated roles to run channels seven days a week is not unusual for partner outlets) and, perhaps most telling of all, approval from the Ghost of Venice itself.
Not only do you have to cater to the company's required specs (so that content that goes in Discover is of a certain quality), but they have some influence on the content (which is not to say they influence how something is covered), and as Yahoo found out, there's no guarantee of staying in the club once you're accepted.
Say what you will about the outlets selected for Discover (I think there's a great mix of diverse coverage), but what you won't see is fake news. Or something that "slipped through the cracks."
You may ask, What about the Stories section, open to anyone with a Snapchat account? I would equate that to the Facebook News Feed and the Google web search results. The Trending module, News search results and Discover channels are in a separate category. They should be held to a higher standard.
Of course, by design, Snapchat drives zero traffic to news sites, while Facebook and Google, as mentioned earlier, are the referral kingmakers. So who cares how much more polished and (sometimes) accurate Discover is than Trending and News?
("AMP now represents 10 to 15 percent of publisher search traffic," according to a search agency with more than 100 clients. Facebook says Instant Articles generate "a 25 percent lift in their articles being read on Facebook, but some publishers say the results are mixed.)
On a per-ad basis, though, Snapchat is far and away the winner, even if we're a little cloudy on specific revenue figures. (You could create native ads for IA and AMP and sell them for whatever price you like, but day-in day-out, Discover comes out on top.)
Even with the revenue terms of the partnership apparently undergoing a change (a topic for another time), it will likely remain the best bargain for news organizations and their seemingly Sisyphean task of finding a profitable digital business model.
The other thing Discover does, because of its polished nature and exclusivity, is elevate the brands that are in there. Even the Daily Mail, whose channel might as well be named the Kardashian News Network, gets a reputation boost from its very presence.
Across the industry, Facebook and Google will continue to generate more traffic and revenue than Snapchat. But for the chosen few who have the resources to maintain an active channel, Discover is far better in quality, and for those filling inventory, revenue. (Again, we'll see how this plays out with the terms of the partnership being changed.)
This means little for everyone who's not in Discover unless one (or both) of things happen:
1. Discover is opened up to everyone
Unlikely because it would dilute the brand; be more difficult for Snapchat's internal team to monitor the content its partners produce; create a general clusterfreak of content on a mobile-only platform that's already space-challenged.
2. Google and Facebook learn from Discover
Again, Facebook no longer has humans working on Trending curation, and Google News search results are also powered by a formula. No one is gatekeeping what appears in those two places in real-time. While some outlets end up there far more than others, it's a roulette game open to anyone with a website and a skill for pleasing the respective algorithms, however opaque their variables.
You can't put a premium price (or any price at all?) on an automated product with little to no human oversight.
That doesn't mean the Trending module and the News sections themselves are the weapons with which to fight Discover. In fact, Facebook and Google, with their referral and revenue monopoly, may not even be interested in playing that game.
But as news outlets increasingly fear giving control of their content to other platforms, there's one third-party partner that is making the leap of faith worthwhile, to journalists and their audiences alike.