If you use Google Trends, you’ll see that web, image, news, and YouTube search interest in the term, fake news, all spiked right after the United States presidential election was held on November 8, 2016. So, some media companies, authentic journalists, video marketers, and political observers might think fake news is a relatively new phenomenon. But they would be wrong.
After the United States presidential election in 2004, Eric Ulken wrote an article for the Online Journalism Review entitled, “Non-traditional sources cloud Google News results.” His analysis found that “articles returned in Google News searches are significantly more likely to have an ideological bias than those returned in searches on Yahoo News.” Back then, Ulken defined “traditional news source” as website affiliated with a wire service, newspaper, magazine, TV station, radio station, broadcast network or cable network. And he said that “non-traditional sources” found in Google News included “a number of relatively obscure, online-only news sources (some of which are best described as weblogs),” as well as a white supremacist journal, which Google News had dropped from its index after users complained that hate speech was turning up in searches.
So, welcome to the new world of fake news which looks suspiciously like the old world of ideologically biased news. About the only significant difference between the two is that their battleground seems to have shifted over the past 12 years from news search engines to social media sites, and social video platforms.
How Big an Issue is Fake News in Online Video?
So, how big a problem is fake news in the world of online video? Well, unless I’m looking through the wrong end of the telescope, it appears that real video news is still beating fake video news on Facebook and YouTube. However, it’s also worth noting that traditional news sources didn’t create many of the most-watched news videos about these topics: Donald Trump, Hillary Rodham Clinton, the United States Presidential Election of 2016, the United States Presidential Election debates, Mike Pence, Tim Kaine, Republican Party, Democratic Party, the Donald Trump presidential campaign of 2016, or the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign of 2016.
According to Tubular Labs, here’s the critical data: 79,700 accounts uploaded 314,000 videos about these topics to Facebook or YouTube in the last 90 days. These videos got a total of 13.2 billion views and 420 million engagements. The average video got 151,000 views and an engagement rate of 2.1x in its first 30 days.
The top 10 Facebook videos which got the most views in their first 30 days were:
- Donald Trump Calls Madea by The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
- Trump supporters are as DUMB as you think! by Occupy Democrats.
- Trump Recalls President Obama/Protester Incident Incorrectly by NowThis Election.
- Pets Who Hate Donald Trump by The Dodo.
- Obama reads more mean tweets on Jimmy Kimmel Live by The Guardian.
- When Donald Trump goes low, Michelle Obama goes high by CREDO Mobile.
- Trevor calls bullshit on Donald Trump's "locker room talk” defense by The Daily Show.
- Jordan Klepper goes to a Trump rally to uncover the hottest new conspiracy theories around Hillary Clinton and President Obama by The Daily Show.
- Donald Trump Buys 2 Kids by Milo Yiannopoulos.
- We really can’t. #Debatenight by Cycle.
And since video marketers all know that YouTube counts views differently than Facebook, here are the top 10 YouTube videos with the most views in their first 30 days:
- Trump supporter leaves CNN anchor speechless by Uploaded
- Second Presidential Debate: Hillary Clinton & Donald Trump (Full Debate) by NBC News.
- First Presidential Debate: Hillary Clinton And Donald Trump (Full Debate) by NBC News.
- VP Debate Cold Open - SNL by Saturday Night Live.
- Donald Trump's Argument For America by Team Trump.
- Third Presidential Debate: Hillary Clinton And Donald Trump (Full Debate) by NBC News.
- IMPORTANT by Save The Day - Vote.
- Melania Trump Blames Everyone But Donald by The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
- Donald Trump vs Hillary Clinton - First Presidential Debate 2016 by RBC
- Mirrors | Hillary Clinton by Hillary Clinton.
Okay, six of these 20 videos were created by accounts affiliated with a wire service, newspaper, magazine, TV station, radio station, broadcast network or cable network. This includes The Guardian, a National British daily newspaper; CNN; NBC News; and RBC NETWORK BROADCASTING, the first (and so far only) 24-hour business news television channel in Russia.
And five out of the 20 videos were created by The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Daily Show, Saturday Night Live, and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Now, I’ve already written about the role that late night talk shows play in U.S. politics. Some might argue that these are non-traditional news sources, but even the video by The Guardian was about President Obama reading mean tweets on Jimmy Kimmel Live. So, there’s a genre of political news that isn’t fake, but it’s isn’t dull and boring. See, it’s funny, but it also makes you think.
Now, the remaining nine out of the 20 videos listed above are from non-traditional sources, including the Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton campaigns themselves. But having watched them over the weekend, I would wouldn’t describe them as fake news. Okay, the one by Milo Yiannopoulos, the technology editor for Breitbart News, comes closest. But Donald Trump is a willing participant in “Donald Trump Buys 2 Kids.” So, it’s closer to a spoof of fake news than an example of fake news itself.
Most Watched News Content: Lessons for Video Publishers
So, what lessons can media companies, authentic journalists, video marketers, and political observers learn from the most-watched videos on Facebook and YouTube in the last few months before the United States presidential election of 2016?
First, it appears that real video news was able to defeat fake video news on Facebook and YouTube – at least during the deeply divisive and disruptive campaign that was waged in 2016. Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t find videos about Hillary Clinton using a body double on YouTube and Facebook, but more often than not they ones like this one from The Young Turks, which debunks the conspiracy theory.
And it is worth noting that I wasn’t able to find fake news videos about Pope Francis endorsing Trump or Clinton heading a child-trafficking ring out of a pizzeria. In other words, fake news may have played a role, perhaps a substantial one, in Donald Trump’s election. However, it doesn’t appear that its perpetrators, many of whom are young people overseas, used online video to earn money by blasting out ludicrous material for which there is an audience.
Second, the lists of Facebook and YouTube videos with the most views in their first 30 days should be a wake-up call for traditional news sources. According to the American Society of News Editors annual newsroom census, the total newsroom workforce has been cut by more than 40% -- from 55,000 in 2007 to 32,900 in 2015. So, if media companies still think that they can continue engaging audiences with compelling coverage of presidential campaigns without making a serious investment in video, then it’s time to for yet another round of layoffs.
And don’t take my word for this. According to the Cisco VNI forecast, nearly a million minutes of video content will cross the network every second by 2020. Globally, IP video traffic will be 82% of all consumer Internet traffic by 2020, up from 70% in 2015. So, political journalists who only know how to use text and photos to tell stories will become as anachronistic in the next four years as political reporters who once knew how to use Morse Code to send their dispatches.
And, instead of blaming fake news or ideologically biased news for elbowing traditional news sources aside, media companies and political journalists should take a serious look at NowThis News. In addition to the video that NowThis Election placed into the top 10 lists above, NowThis News has also published a post-election story entitled, “Protests Erupt Across America After Donald Trump's Victory,” which was uploaded by NowThis on Nov. 9, 2016, already has 72.1 million views. Plus, the nine NowThis properties got close to 1.4 billion views in October, making it the #12 most-watched media property that month – behind BuzzFeed, which was #1, but ahead of BBC Worldwide, which ranked #14.
NowThis Media was founded by Huffington Post alumni Kenneth Lerer, and Eric Hippeau. (I used to work for Hippeau back in the 1990s, when he was the Chairman and CEO of Ziff-Davis, which was the largest media company serving the technology sector.) In September 2012, Hippeau said, “The idea (for NowThis) came as Ken and I were tossing around thoughts in mobile news. It was evident that there was no video news – breaking news -- that was created in video format just for mobile devices.” And in September 2016, he told The Wall Street Journal, “We see this marketplace as actually just taking off.”
Can Online Video Save the News Industry?
I agree. And I made similar arguments back in May 2012 and August 2013 in columns entitled, “Critics of Organic Content Farms like Demand Media Should Eat Their Own Words” and “Can Online Video Save the Newspaper Industry.”
I argued back then – and I would continue arguing today – that too many mainstream media companies and traditional journalists are now talking about "fake news" in a strangely similar way that their predecessors once talked about "yellow journalism" back in the late 1890s. This earlier generation of ink-stained wretches looked at the innovations being pioneered by Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst and were shocked, shocked to discover banner headlines, eye-catching illustrations, undercover exposés, sports pages, women’s sections, advice columns, and comic strips. One of these comic strips, “The Yellow Kid,” ran in Pulitzer’s New York World before moving to Hearst’s New York Journal American and running in color. That’s why Erwin Wardman, the editor of the New York Press, called the more compelling approach to telling stories published by Pulitzer and Hearst “yellow journalism” or the “school of yellow kid journalism.” In 1898, he wrote, “We called them Yellow because they are Yellow.”
So, think about it. Today, the mast majority of daily newspapers have adopted banner headlines, eye-catching illustrations, undercover exposés, sports pages, woman’s sections, advice columns, and comic strips. So, what was non-traditional content almost 120 years ago is mainstream content today. And media companies and journalists need to invest in breaking video news for mobile devices if they want to beat back future threats from ideologically biased or fake news.
Where will the money come from to make these investments? Now, I'm just spitballing here, but maybe they should cut back from their over-reliance on national polls to tell them who is ahead in the horse race several months to more than a year before an election. You may have other practical suggestions. Please share them in the comments section below.