Higgins very rightly uses the term ‘post truth’ to describe the phase we are living in. He says, “the term ‘post-truth’ describes not only an increase in the frequency of lies in the public sphere but refers to a world in which truth is no longer an expectation.” - since the inception of mass media, disinformation has been circulated. However, the recent years mark the rise of a ‘misinformed society.’ The media industry is so powerful that it has been framing the minds of society for centuries. The technological development of this industry has converted the world into a ‘digital’ and a ‘global’ village, a borderless ecosystem where information flows from one country to another within seconds. Traditional media has been replaced by a digital and a more advanced version, and additionally, with social media, there are constant opinions and new information every second. With private players - whether brands, advertising agencies, or news agencies - constantly competing with each other while using the latest media strategies, platforms, and trends to secure the top place in this capitalist world, there is an overload of information and a lot of confusion and noise. However, with this development, the credibility of the industry is also declining. The ecosystem is flooded with fake news, fake agendas, propaganda, lies, and misinformation. Our society is now polluted by a pretentious ecosystem that is largely fostered by the current media players, and this ecosystem is being upheld and sustained by the welcoming attitude of the audience.
Advertising isn't a contemporary world phenomenon; it has been around since ancient and mediaeval times. What has changed significantly is the approach through which it is conducted. It started with 'word of mouth,' and now, as we arrive at what we call a 'digital world,' the source is primarily media and several forms. However, what has largely remained unchanged is the motive of profit. No company will ever launch a brand campaign if it thinks it will lose money; therefore, any social-justice-oriented marketing is driven primarily by money, not by the advancement of society. To earn money, brands are being 'fauxgressive,' which means 'fake-progressive.' They are pretending to be socially conscious to lure the younger generation and earn profits without having any actual substance. They are 'woke washing' themselves to sell more.
In 2019, Lacoste released a brand campaign stating that its famous crocodile logo will be replaced by ten limited-edition polo shirts featuring a different endangered species instead. This might sound very appealing but what's more amusing is the fact that this brand was simultaneously selling 'cow-leather handbags' and 'gloves made from deer skin.' Another spectrum to indulge in would be questioning the sustainability of these campaigns. This campaign might spread awareness, but for a company with a valuation of $1 billion, it is hard to pin the lack-lustre effort on any aspect other than acknowledging that their priorities were more capitalist than humanist.
After Nike's brand campaign featured former footballer Colin Kaepernick, its profits rose to $6 billion. Soon after, the brand launched another campaign featuring Selena Williams in an ad that challenged society's attitude towards women. It demanded equal rights and equal representation for women in sports. However, it was soon revealed that the company itself wasn't providing paid maternity leaves to its sponsored woman athlete Alysia Montaño. The above example is just one out of many that show how brands are now employing 'femvertising' to lure women and make them feel valued and dignified. An article by FII says, "The advertising Industry that once depended heavily on the objectification of women to market its content has now taken a 360-degree turn to attract the attention of female consumers and to make them feel "understood and valued."
We are living in a world of ‘alternative facts, ‘hoax news,’ and ‘counter claims’ that spread like wildfire on social media. It isn’t very comforting to know that we cannot trust the media just at face value, even the mainstream news agencies. The term ‘fake news' is now a household phrase, and everyone is accusing some media platform of peddling fake news. It’s also important to note that fake news isn’t just an act of commission but also an act of omission. This intentional spread of false information, masked as traditional news, is done to advance political goals or generate ad revenues and earn profits.
Fake news is more sensational, which is why it gets more audience and generates more revenue. People also prefer news that reinforces their viewpoint and prefers news agencies that, instead of sensitising them, are indulging their misconceptions by becoming an echo chamber. What can also be noted is that there is also an interplay between fake news on social media and that shown by the traditional news agencies. An article by Balkan Insight states that an anonymous website called InfoSrpska falsely accused Eddie Bernice Johnson, a US congresswoman from the Democratic Party, of being a “Bosnian Lobbyist.” Information from this article was quickly picked up by Republika Srpska's official news agency SRNA and public broadcaster Radio-Television Republika Srpska, RTRS, without being changed much. Tijana Cvjeticanin, a member of the editorial board of Raskrinkavanje, argued that "the anonymous website was created to serve as a source of disinformation and thereby clear mainstream media of responsibility for it, because they will convey the disinformation, but will not be its 'creator'."
By now, it is clear that social media, which was once established as a platform for peer-to-peer connection, isn't just limited to that. It is a platform of raging opinions, pushing agendas, and the most potent source of spreading misinformation. A very important example can be the 'pizza gate' story. On Sunday, December 4, 2016, a shooting incident occurred at a pizza shop in northwestern Washington D.C. A man brought a rifle into the shop and began shooting. Fortunately, no one was hurt, and the suspect was arrested, but the motive for this crime and the circumstances that triggered it were shocking. An article by Marubeni reported:
"There were false tweets widely spread on the net claiming that this pizza shop was the base for a pedophile sex ring involving Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, a former Secretary of State, and members of her campaign. The operators of the pizza shop began receiving threats from right-wing activists who believed that the reports were true."
A huge volume of tweets using #pizzagate on Twitter, social media sites of the pizza shop were full of hate comments, and a real shooting was caused because of fake news.
Whatsapp also plays a crucial role when it comes to misinformation; anyone can write anything disguised as news, and it goes around numerous groups within seconds. An article by The Print reported on how a single rumour circulated through Whatsapp killed 29 people in India. The rumour was about a child-lifting gang that lifts your child and runs away. It was circulated along with a video that looks like CCTV footage in which motorcycle-borne men lift a child away. The video actually is from Karachi, Pakistan, where it was shot to educate people against child kidnapping. The last bit in the video has been edited out as it circulates across India. The article reported, “In Tripura, an announcer hired by the government to dispel the rumours was himself lynched.” From since the rumour started in 2017 till 2018, 29 people were either lynched or murdered by the crowd.
While we blame the media industry for creating a pretentious ecosystem, it's important to understand that by accepting what is being given to us, we are also adding to the noise and confusion. The word 'clicktivism' very well defines the consumer's behaviour. According to The Guardian, "Clicktivism' is a well-documented phenomenon, where people click on an online petition and think that their work is done, without actually having an impact on the world."
In regards to fake news, people need to understand that a piece of information that strongly reinforces their point of view can be fake too. As Victoria Rubins says, “There is an unwillingness to bend one’s mind around facts that don’t agree with one’s own viewpoint.” This unwillingness which acts as bait for media industries to come and fool us, needs to change. We also need a little more self awareness as Resnick mentions, “When people say they are worried about people being misled, what they are really worried about is other people being misled, Very rarely do they worry that fundamental things they believe themselves may be wrong.”
In times like these, we need to educate ourselves about what sustainable branding looks like, and we need to learn how to fact check and verify information. We don’t only need more news literacy projects, but also we need to be taught how to second guess our instinctive reactions. The industry, whether news, social media, or advertising, needs to understand that they and the audience are not two different sides of a table. Rather, we all live in a common world, and therefore it is crucial for us to have a common goal which is the progress of society. This progress will benefit all of us, but it requires us to honour accountability more than capitalism and self-serving propagandas. It is crucial for the industry to be genuine to the audience because what they are using is an incredibly powerful tool that has the ability to change the world. It is therefore up to them to decide if they want this change to be positive or negative, for the ability to influence is non-negotiable. It’s time to reinstate trust so that when we turn to the media, we see the right so that we end up doing or believing the right from our end.