Analyzing customer feedback helps to fight the fake news phenomenon and better understand the emotions driving your customer experiences.

Fake news, misinformation and propaganda

The rise of social media means ideas, articles and images are easier than ever to share with millions of people. This has obvious advantages for agile companies looking to reach out to new audiences. However the last few years have also seen a growth in ‘fake news’ – articles that are based on false information.

Fake news differs from ‘satire’ in that satire is deliberately created to deceive, but it’s also written in such a way as to let the reader know it’s false and based on irony.

On the other hand, fake news is often tied to commercial publications, political organizations and websites that use misinformation to exploit populations, and promote hidden agendas or conspiracy theories. In this way, fake news can be viewed as a kind of 21st century propaganda (though the concept itself has been around since the 19th century).

While fake news usually proliferates online on marginal and fringe publications, there are more and more examples of it crossing over into the mainstream media.

Fake news may include:

  • Articles where the ‘news’ presented is not factual. Often the core facts have been twisted or exaggerated to present a misleading or biased report.
  • Stories based on hoaxes that are taken beyond what could be interpreted understood to be a practical joke.
  • Satirical articles that have been mistaken for a fact-based articles and shared as a truth.

Fake news makes its way into the mainstream through ease of online sharing. They give the creator the ability to control the messaging, bypassing the traditional media outlets that have traditionally been the gate-keepers of fact.

Fake news appeals to the emotions of its readers, tapping into events or themes that affect people on an individual level or have local impact. Usually they are heavily focused on storytelling that’s based on catchy click-bias headlines that are ‘easy’ reads.

Capturing attention and social media shares using emotive subjects and images is the priority ahead of accurate information that can be verified.

Why 2016 was the ‘year of fake news’ – and where to next?

In many ways 2016 was the ‘year of fake news’ because the format exploited mainstream audiences on a large scale and had a geo-political impact.

In fact, analysis shows viral fake news outranked ‘real’ news in terms of audience numbers. The 2016 US presidential elections was a case in point. and the Brexit referendum in the UK saw an explosion in fake news items.

Buzzfeed analysis shows that during the US presidential campaign, the 20 highest-ranking fake election stories from hoax websites and partisan blogs received 8,711,000 engagements on Facebook (shares, reactions and comments). By contrast, the 20 best-performing election stories from credible mainstream news sources received 7,367,000 interactions. The engagement with fake news was higher – providing it with a legitimacy it did not warrant.

The also saw an explosion in fake news items, while at times it was difficult to tell fact from fiction during the 2017 French presidential and UK general elections.

Campaigners on all sides of politics on both sides of the Atlantic used fake news to scare voters, push agendas and, ultimately, influence the outcome of democratic elections.

Traditional polling failed to factor in the fake news effect, nor the extent to which audiences were swayed by the emotive arguments the genre put forwards. As a result, election forecasts and other market research failed to predict the results of both the US election and Brexit. But emotional analysis prior to the US vote did predict Trump’s success.

How fake news feeds off emotions

Human beings are by their very nature irrational, not rational. Fake news is perfectly placed to exploit these thoughts and feelings. That’s why the measurement of emotions needs to be a key indicator when doing market research into fake news and how people take the decision to read, believe and share it.

Fake news feeds off emotion. Whether it’s politics, animal rights or other protest or campaign-based movements, emotions shape and modify opinions.

Some people believe what they want to believe. This ‘confirmation bias’ means they are reassured when they read something that taps into their own thoughts or emotions – even if it’s not factual.

Similarly, we tend to align ourselves with people who share our world views. This is called ‘implicit bias’. So if you believe man never walked on the moon, it’s likely you’re following the same Facebook pages and Twitter feeds as other non-believers. That means ‘fake facts’ shared on these pages about the moon landings are re-shared in a vacuum without any independent critique. And “repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth” is the first rule of propaganda. (It was a phrase coined by Hitler’s ‘propaganda minister’ Joseph Goebbels, who made it something of an artform).

With fake news – as with online marketing in general – the key objective is to have content that is widely shared and ‘liked’. Emotion contagion is the process whereby something that has a sense of emotional attachment is easily shared among the masses. The greater the emotional attachment, the more likely it is to be shared.

One controversial Facebook research experiment highlighted with clarity the emotional element of online sharing. The study, published in a leading academic journal, manipulated the extent to which people were exposed to negative and positive emotions in their Facebook newsfeeds. It then looked at the extent to which individual emotions changed depending on their emotional exposure levels.

The results highlighted the impact of emotional contagion, and the ease with which emotional states can be transferred to other people via social media.

How fake news feeds off emotions

Why fake news can be hard to track

Tech companies that disseminate news – such as Google and Facebook – are working on solutions like CrossCheck to help verify online articles and minimize the impact of fake news through algorithms.

Complicating the situation is the ease with which it’s possible to present fake news as real news. During the 2017 French elections, politician Marion Marechal-Le Pen shared a fake news item about presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron. The ‘news item’ appeared to come from a legitimate news site, LeSoir.be, but the website publishing the article had in fact copied the design and layout of Le Soir and was publishing from a different URL, LeSoir.info.

As fake news serves multiple purposes and agendas, it can be hard to track. Often it serves to divert attention from a more serious or politically sensitive issues – meaning its effectiveness or success can be difficult to gauge in real terms. Also, as it serves to alter opinion and change perceptions or points of view, these success rates can be hard to track. Other goals may be purely commercial. For example, maximizing metrics or the number of website clicks or page shares, or the growth in advertising revenue.

Traditional metrics and analytics reports therefore make it difficult to track the impact of fake information. This ‘clickbait’ culture – when content is driven by clicks rather than audience engagement or quality – poses problems for businesses wanting to reach customers online. This is because fake news usually captures audiences that aren’t core to your business. This can be a particular problem for online advertisers.

How Emolytics can tap into the emotions driving fake news

Emolytics can help companies fight inaccurate forecasts driven in part by fake news.

By asking specific in-the-moment questions and soliciting real-time feedback from your customers and the visitors to your website, it’s possible to pinpoint the emotions people experience in relation to the changing media landscape and fake news. It can also help identify the emotions they experienced when they engage with you and your business. Traditional long-form surveys miss this data because they fail to capture accurate responses and they don’t concentrate enough on emotions.

As Emolytics’ core business is based on emotions, the Emoscore can identify the emotional value people place on your brand, blog article or product. It can optimize and improve the impact of emotion on your brand, and tap into the very same emotions people experience when they read or share fake news. Analyzing and listening to customer feedback in this way can help you better understand the emotions driving your customer the experiences.

Emolytics can be used for your businesses customers as well as for consumer interactions, and can be utilized across web, newsletter and point of sales channels.

Get under the skin of fake news today

Find out how you can start using Emolytics to better understand audience behavior using a set of questions designed to get under the skin of fake news.

Get in touch with Emolytics today to find out how out digital experts can help you.


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