Fake news is nothing new. Most of us are old enough to remember seeing far-fetched celebrity tabloid stories, or stories about “Batboy” while waiting in line at the grocery store. But the rise of social media and the most recent election cycle has changed things—and fake news is now a buzzword we can’t escape.
Many people are familiar with “pizzagate,” one of the more sensational stories from the most recent election cycle. A man from North Carolina shot off a rifle inside a Washington D.C. pizzeria after reading a fake news story which had reported that Hillary Clinton was running a child sex ring out of the shop. It seems like after this incident, allegations of “fake news!” are everywhere. And perhaps rightly so, as social media has been flooded with hoax-y stories that are designed to trick readers into clicking links and ads.
A recent study conducted by researchers from Stanford University found that only 23 percent of readers were able to identify sponsored content as advertising. And a majority of high school students are unable to distinguish fake news from credible sources. Shockingly, more than half of Stanford undergrads also failed to identify the reliable news source when asked to evaluate a fake news story and a credible one. Facebook finally conceded that fake news was a problem, and has agreed to partner with journalism outlets like ABC News and Snopes to flag these types of stories and sink them to the bottom of our newsfeeds.
So what does this mean for your legal blog? Well, readers are becoming less trusting. They are taking a more active role in what they read in order to discern fact from fiction. This poses a challenge for bloggers. In order for your content to really reach your readers, it must be credible.
What steps can be taken to lend your content credibility? First, don’t write clickbait. If you use a shocking headline that grabs attention, but don’t follow up, you will lose your audience. No one likes to be the victim of a bait-and-switch.
Second, cite to all sources that you use, particularly if you are citing to statistics or case law. Use embedded links to authoritative sources, as this can also have the positive side-effect of boosting your SEO value.
Make your posts personal, with a by-line and information about the author whenever possible.
Acknowledge counterarguments. If your piece is too one-sided, you will likely lose credibility with your readers.
A brief call-to-action is fine, but try not to litter your content with too much hard-salesmanship.
In short, the rise of fake news on social media (and public awareness about it) could make readers more wary of your blog and its message. Make sure your content is credible, fresh, and interesting, and over time readers will come to trust your blog as an authoritative and interesting source.