Ad Nut
Oct 25, 2021

Is a Facebook-endorsed fact-checking campaign an oxymoron?

AD NUT's RANT OF THE WEEK: Would you believe Facebook actually cares about the spread of misinformation? Our pal Ad Nut sure doesn't.

You'd think Facebook would want to avoid any association with whistle-blowers.

In a campaign from the Australian Associated Press (AAP), supported by Facebook, a stern referee runs in and issues yellow cards to those who spread misinformation.

The campaign, by Momentum, coincides with UNESCO's Global Media and Information Literacy Week this week. It's running on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and online.

In three brief spots and a website, the campaign urges people to spot misinformation and stop its flow by asking three simple questions: Who made the claim, what's the evidence, and what do trusted sources say.

The films are cute, and the website gets a bit deeper into the actual difficulties of answering those three questions. It even digs into the three claims in the videos by way of example.

Ad Nut is in favour of trying to encourage people to be more sceptical of what they read and hear. But as the campaign website itself proves, doing so is hard work, especially when you're talking about scientifically complex topics, such as vaccines. Even if they have the time, people who aren't scientists simply aren't equipped to 'do their own research'. In many areas, only actual experts have the ability to understand and weigh the evidence. Even figuring out who the relevant trusted sources are, and finding the relevant information, is difficult. All of this makes it much more likely that people will fall down rabbit holes set up by people with nefarious goals, drink the Kool-Aid they find there, and then begin to repeat it.  

Will this campaign have much actual impact on the problem? Ad Nut can't see it. The AAP seems to think the campaign might help it be seen as one of those trusted sources of information, countering some of the anti-media propaganda that has been so damaging to journalism in recent years. 

However, seeing Facebook's name on such a campaign really gets Ad Nut's dander up. The social-media company doesn't actually hope to cause any change here—except to deflect from its complicity in the problem. This is just an attempt to shift blame onto the consumers of misinformation, and away from the giant company that is a (if not the) chief mechanism of its spread.

In this way the campaign is like many environmental campaigns before it, which put the onus on members of the public rather than on the massive corporations whose very business models rest on continuing to pollute. The only difference is that this time we're talking about poison in the public discourse rather than harmful chemicals in the air and water. 

If Ad Nut were to say to a colleague, "Facebook really cares about stopping the spread of misinformation", would a referee run out to issue Ad Nut a yellow card? Because that's what should happen. Facebook's engagement-seeking algorithms reward outrage. They therefore encourage the spread of lies. They reward material that actively undermines the authority of the same experts that this campaign asks us to turn to as trusted sources, including sources like the AAP. Facebook, as has been recently revealed by the Wall Street Journal and many others (here's but one example from this past weeked), knows all about this and is well aware of the damage it causes. Yet it chooses not to make any serious changes, hoping that its support of campaigns like this will be enough to ward off pressure.

Against the deluge of misinformation flowing through Facebook every single moment of every single day, a campaign like this is the equivalent of turning off a few light bulbs and hoping it'll end climate change. Ad Nut for one can't understand why the AAP—or any other organisation that's actually devoted to seeking the truth—would want to be associated with it.

CREDITS

Client: AAP and Facebook
Managing Editor, AAP: Holly Nott
Head of Policy Programs, Facebook: Cheryl Seeto
Strategy and Creative: Momentum Worldwide Australia
Executive Creative Director: Matt Batten
Managing Partner: Imelda Hodson
Senior Account Director: Isabelle Ward
Strategy: Anthony Dever, Kayleigh Franks
Creative: Dave Scott, Matt Batten
Design: Iv Siauwidjaja
Production: Elastic Studios
Producer: Kadi Lokk
Director: Simon Thomas, Francois Cumunel

Ad Nut is a surprisingly literate woodland creature that for unknown reasons has an unhealthy obsession with advertising. Ad Nut gathers ads from all over Asia and the world for your viewing pleasure, because Ad Nut loves you. You can also check out Ad Nut's Advertising Hall of Fame, or read about Ad Nut's strange obsession with 'murderous beasts'.

 

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