Fake News Is Not the Only Threat to the Internet
In Can Exposing More of the Information Value Chain Help Control Fake News? I suggested that, to help combat the transmission of fake news, search engines such as Google should enable searchers to display contextual and historical information in order to provide some history about a particular link before it is actually clicked.
Fake news is not the only threat that might be addressed by making available more information about a link before it's clicked. Here are more examples of things I'd like to know before clicking a link:
- Does the target site accept "sponsored content" from questionable sources like Taboola and Outbrain that deliberately present ads disguised to look like news?
- Does the target site prevent access by someone using an ad blocker?
- Does the target site only display partial article text to non-subscribers and then require a sign-up to see the whole article?
- Does the target site only allow comments by Facebook subscribers?
In the case of (1) one message the reader does get is, "We're so desperate for ad revenue that we're willing to accept advertising from those operating with deceptive publishing practices." My reaction: contempt for your readers is not a good long term business practice.
In the case of (2), speaking as a user of ad blockers, there are some sites whose links I no longer click. I'm NOT against all ads, just the ads that annoy through animation, autoplay sound, popovers that obscure text, and other distracting annoyances. If you agree to avoid such practices -- and to stop using sources such as those mentioned in (1) -- I will once again look at your site and see your ads.
In the case of (3) just tell me before I click on the link that you restrict access to subscribers only. (Sub-complaint: if for some reason I do go through the sign-up process to be able to read the target article, after signup take me back to the article I'm trying to read, not to your front page!
In the case of (4) the message I get from you is that, because of your decision to outsource spam and troll control to Facebook, you have decided in advance that my comments are not worthwhile because I don't use Facebook. Thank you for restricting online engagement!
Individually the above may just sound like "pet peeves" from someone who dislikes annoying ads. Taken together, though, what I see here is the shutting down of the openness and freedom of information once promised by the prospect of a future "information superhighway." But those days are gone. Such roadblocks and the proliferation of fake news sites are real and they are choking the web.
That's why it's so important to serve up more information in advance of a click, along with perhaps a note attached to a site that says something like, "You tried to access this site on your smartphone six weeks ago but gave up and flagged it because pop-up ads or aggressive sign-up forms made it impossible to read the text."
I'm not asking some other institution to rate and rank offending and annoying sites for me. I want to make those decisions myself, thank you. I am asking for more information to be made available to me in an open and transparent fashion so I can answer the question, "Should I click on this link?" on the basis of honest and accurate contextual and historical information.
Copyright (c) 2016 by Dennis D. McDonald. Can I help you adapt the content and ideas you see here for your own organization? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.