The Rise and Fall of Fake News

Forget about the fake news, the number of stories about the fake news has peaked and is declining. Thankfully.

If there were ever evidence that the media have a hive mind, look no further than BuzzSumo's article on the trend of reporting on fake news. The content marketing company writes that the number of stories ABOUT fake news (not the fake news stories themselves) hit a high in January 2018. The numbers are astonishing.

This surge of interest in the concept of ‘Fake News’ from politicians, journalists, regulators and the public has led to over 200,000 articles being published about the topic and these have gained over 79m social engagements so far.

Fortunately, BuzzSumo tries to stay away from the political arguments — did "fake news" proliferate because of Donald Trump's candidacy, and was it the planting of fake news by him or by his opponents that caused its spread? — but it does make the point that the election itself was a big enough "social" event that it got people talking about the topic of fake news.

Well, good, glad people are watching the election, but like everything, the media, in trying to hold up a reflection of society, ended up mirroring itself. One lesson from BuzzSumo is to get on the bandwagon at the sweet spot of the discussion if you want to be relevant, but the more important truth is this: if you're going to just be part of the commentariat, go away.

Data-driven research is valuable to audiences even when it used on topics that aren't valuable on their own (fake news, yes, no, we're all so much better off as a society, eh?). But is it always important?

The answer lies in the saying by British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli and popularized by Mark Twain: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."

There are many types of data. Don't be fooled into thinking something is relevant just because there are numbers to back it. Make sure you know the value of what is being measured and whether the measurement being shared accurately reflects that value or is equal to the attention given it.

The coverage of fake news has died down because the conversation got us NOWHERE. Let's waste our breath on more valuable insights. Sorry to make my case by writing about media coverage that I found aggravatingly unhelpful, but it seemed like a good opportunity to remind ourselves once again to consider what's truly important — as always, artfully described by modern-day hero Arthur Brooks — "creating value in our lives and the lives of others." Let's do more of that and less of the other thing.

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