Will fake news lose its power now that we know it exists? Probably not

  • Voices
  • January 16, 2017
  • Colleen Ryan
Will fake news lose its power now that we know it exists? Probably not

Fake news isn’t going away any time soon. Yes, people are on the case and some ethical and social responsibility is being taken up by the platforms that used to distribute the links, but the success of the early producers of these sites has spawned a plethora of copycats who are busily creating new fake news (though, it seems a bit weird to refer to the old fake news as authentic and the others as ‘fake-wash’).

Fake news has made the non-fake newspaper headlines, and as the salience of this practice is raised surely it will become less impactful. In fact, was it ever impactful? Wouldn’t any right-minded person realise that the Pope did neither endorse Trump nor his position on everything from Mexican walls to prosecuting Hillary, sorry ‘crooked Hillary’.

Well, depending on your definition of ‘right-minded’, you could argue that people are never really right-minded. They are instead biased in their thinking and heavy users of shortcuts to avoid burning up energy thinking analytically about everything that confronts them. Confirmation bias is one example of how we accept, and even seek out, information that confirms our view. We are childlike rather than right-minded in the way we test our understanding of the world by being much more aware and observant of things that confirm our beliefs.

But more insidious than our cognitive biases is the way so much information is noted at a subconscious level. It’s called ‘low processing’ which means what it sounds like – we don’t exert any effort to process the information and it gets stored at an unconscious level. A very large proportion of the advertising we are exposed to is subject to unconscious low processing, which is not to say that it is not effective. Indeed there is a body of knowledge (much of it generated by Robert Heath of Bath University working with the IPA) that shows low processing is a more effective way of embedding memories and that they have a longer term decay rate than more conscious cognitive processing.

It sounds counter-intuitive that something you can’t remember cannot only be effective but be more effective than something you can remember. Yet, experiments with a variety of different media demonstrate the truth of this. When people read magazines containing an advertisement their ratings of the brand will improve (or change in some way) afterwards, even though they don’t remember seeing the ad. And what’s more their ratings will remain at the new level some weeks afterwards. By comparison, those who have the ad pointed out to them and are asked to look at it and tell the researcher what is being communicated show an immediate shift in ratings of the brand, but do not show the same long-term change in their views of the brand. Instead, they revert to their pre-exposure ratings (or close to them).

Why? Because low processing uses an emotional ‘gut level’ response to what has been seen unconsciously and stores it in the part of our brain where memories are laid down. These are the memories that we access when we then think about the category so they contribute to our mental availability of the brand. Whereas an ad that our brain considers consciously involves our cognitive analytical brain which, after having worked out what’s going on, decides if it is important enough to remember – and by important our brain means important to sustaining life, not important to choosing the right brand of soda. Unless the ad has triggered a strongly emotional response (in which case the emotion will create a memory that can be retrieved in the future) it will be consigned to the ‘not important’ bucket found only in short-term memory.

Now apply the same principles to fake news. Most of it appears around the edge of the screen that contains the content you are actively viewing/reading. Again research has shown that the ads around content are absorbed even when there is no conscious awareness of seeing them – indeed people will confidently deny the ads were present but still show shifts in their rating and descriptions of the brand’s associations.

So, what happens when instead of ads there are ‘ads’ with links to fake news websites. We can’t dismiss it as a case of confirmation bias selecting only those who are already disposed to believing the story, leaving others to ignore it. For sure, a worrying number of people consciously reacted to these links and followed them to the full story. But what of the majority of ‘right-minded’ people for whom unconscious low processing has caused a memory to be stored, despite not clicking on the link. The memory might be ‘Pope endorses Trump’ and lies deep seated in our brain without any analytical thought to dissect the facts.

How many of you didn’t realise you even saw that link but now you have been reminded of it here, realise that in fact you did see it? We don’t know how much that might influence people’s overall view of the political merits of the candidates nor the subsequent action they took at voting time, but if we are confident that advertising works this way then why shouldn’t fake news work that way too, making it a truly disturbing hidden persuader.

  • Colleen Ryan is the head of strategy at TRA. 

This is a community discussion forum. Comment is free but please respect our rules:

  1. Don’t be abusive or use sweary type words
  2. Don’t break the law: libel, slander and defamatory comments are forbidden
  3. Don’t resort to name-calling, mean-spiritedness, or slagging off
  4. Don’t pretend to be someone else.

If we find you doing these things, your comments will be edited without recourse and you may be asked to go away and reconsider your actions.
We respect the right to free speech and anonymous comments. Don’t abuse the privilege.

NZME goes all in on election coverage

  • Media
  • September 22, 2017
  • StopPress Team
NZME goes all in on election coverage

NZME is promising five hours of uninterrupted election coverage across the NZ Herald, Newstalk ZB and iHeartRadio as it counts down to the final election result. This sees the company take on a media space, which until now has been dominated by the broadcast television providers.

Read more
topics
Beneath the Surface
Beneath the Surface
In this series, brought to you by Microsoft, we talk to a conceptual photographer, illustrator ...
Insight Creative
Insight Creative
Insight Creative specialises in shaping business stories out the core insights that often lie under ...
20/20 (tele)vision
20/20 (tele)vision
Media consumption is changing. But by how much?
The Hot List
The Hot List
Our rundown of the hottest shows, brands and creators in New Zealand media. 1. magazine ...
Cannes Lions 2017
Cannes Lions 2017
All the winners, the shortlists and the drama from this year's edition of advertising biggest ...
Merger Mania
Merger Mania
All our stories on the nation's two failed mergers in one place
Bauer Beyond the Page
Bauer Beyond the Page
When it comes to creating branded content, there are few better in the Kiwi market ...
The Indies
The Indies
Over the course of this series of articles, we look at how always-nimble indy agencies ...
AdRoll on automation
AdRoll on automation
Marketing automation is tipped to eventually become the only way advertising is traded in the ...
Game Changers
Game Changers
It’s all about PEOPLE. Join us as we discuss global insights, ideas and innovations from ...
TVNZ-NZ Marketing Awards 2015
TVNZ-NZ Marketing Awards 2015
Celebrating all the winners of the 2015 TVNZ-NZ Marketing Awards.
Future Tense
Future Tense
In a new series, StopPress talks to a range of newsmakers currently trying to shine ...
Beyond the Page
Beyond the Page
In conjunction with the MPA, the Beyond the Page series shows how some of the ...
Up Country
Up Country
In conjunction with News Works, the Up Country series talks with some of New Zealand's ...
Sounding off
Sounding off
As part of a content partnership with MediaWorks, we've asked a few of the company's ...
StopPress Podcasts
StopPress Podcasts
We sit down for a chat with industry leaders to find out what they're up ...

More than a week: Google set to start updating pronunciation of 8,900 New Zealand place names pinned on 'Say it Tika' app

  • Advertising
  • September 22, 2017
  • Georgina Harris
More than a week: Google set to start updating pronunciation of 8,900 New Zealand place names pinned on 'Say it Tika' app

Vodafone, Google and FCB are taking their Māori Language Week campaign beyond seven measly days by making a commitment to start updating the pronunciation of New Zealand place names on Google Maps. The process has already kicked off and we can expect to start hearing the updated pronunciation by the end of the year.

Read more
news

Account stalwart Scott Wallace bids farewell to DDB after 17 years

In an industry known for staff churn, there aren't many operators quite as loyal as DDB account director Scott Wallace. But even the longest runs ...

voices
Sponsored content

The voice of a nation: TV's central role in covering the election

With election hype sweeping the nation’s attention, television is once again playing a central role in keeping New Zealanders interested and informed. The medium has ...

Acquire Online celebrates five years of programmatic jostling

  • Media
  • September 21, 2017
  • StopPress Team
Acquire Online celebrates five years of programmatic jostling

This week, Acquire Online blew out five candles on its birthday cake – which is no small feat in the rapidly moving tech space. We caught up with directors Chris Schultz, Simon Healy and Anthony Ord to find out how they got this far and where they plan on going next.

Read more

Moving on from a 'glorified PDF': Goodfolk on reshaping the digital face of Fidelity Life

  • Brand
  • September 21, 2017
  • Erin McKenzie
Moving on from a 'glorified PDF': Goodfolk on reshaping the digital face of Fidelity Life

With a 44-year legacy in the insurance industry but a fast-moving digital environment surrounding it, Fidelity Life needed future-proofing. It called on Goodfolk and Phosphor to create a new website with its staff front and centre and as Goodfolk general manager Benn Winlove explains, the execution is a result of the client's willingness to listen to its agencies and the agencies' willingness to understand their client.

Read more

September 21 2012: The day the social media dream died

  • Voices
  • September 21, 2017
  • Paul Catmur
September 21 2012: The day the social media dream died
Facebook

September 21 marks the five-year anniversary of the day when Facebook turned social media into just plain ‘media’. This date is probably worth noting, if not necessarily celebrating, as it marks the end of the dream of brands having unlimited conversations with their fans for free.

Read more
Next page
Results for
Topics
Jobs
About

StopPress provides essential industry news and intelligence, updated daily. And the digital newsletter delivers the latest news to your inbox twice a week — for free!

©2009–2015 Tangible Media. All rights reserved.
Use of this site constitutes acceptance of our Privacy policy.

Advertise

Contact Vernene Medcalf at +64 21 628 200 to advertise in StopPress.

View Media Kit