Opinion

The arrogant ethics of Facebook have enveloped the entire online media industry

In the wake of reports claiming brands are paying bloggers to write positive articles about them on publishers' websites, Bob Hoffman attacks out the 'corruption' of journalism by online advertising

Writers for significant online publications like Forbes, Huffpost, Mashable, Inc, Business Insider, and Entrepreneur, are accepting bribes for favourable mentions and links. This is the thrust of a story in The Outline that details how agencies “blur traditional lines between advertising and public relations, quietly pay off journalists to promote their clients …”

Of course, the publications in question assert that they absolutely forbid such practices. But like Google and Facebook’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy for hate-filled, racist, violent, or fake content, the ‘policy’ is more PR bullshit than anything real.

According to The Outline “…a contributor to Fast Company and other outlets…described how he had inserted references to a well-known startup…on behalf of a marketing agency he declined to name.”

“An unpaid contributor to the Huffington Post …said that he has included sponsored references to brands in his articles for years…the writer also described specific brands he’d written about on behalf of one of the agencies, which ranged from a popular ride-hailing app, to a publicly-traded site for booking flights and hotels, to a large American cell phone service provider…’This is a classic example of payola,’ he said”

According to Mumbrella Asia, Forbes has pulled articles by a contributing writer named Chris Chong who just happens to be founder of a “press release automation tool” (God help us.) Forbes reportedly published favourable articles about four of Chong’s clients written by Chong. Explaining this sordid practice, Forbes used the Google-Facebook defence – given the volume of stuff we publish, we can’t possibly…blah blah blah.

When the author of the article in The Outline contacted Chong about his alleged wrongdoings, what he got in return was an offer of more payola… “Is there any way we can set up a partnership together to distribute content? he asked…Happy to explore remuneration.”

It seems that Facebook ethics – the ethics of arrogant pricks who believe they are smarter than everyone else and can’t be bothered with traditional standards of behaviour – have enveloped the tech and online media industries. We have more than enough evidence of how Uber flirts with criminality; how fraud is endemic in online advertising; how kickbacks and other corrupt practices are “pervasive” in media agency operations; how Facebook recently ‘discovered’ more fake accounts than there are adults in the US.

Anyone who is surprised by corruption in online ‘journalism’ should not be. We have once-honourable publishers like The New York Times and Condé Nast who have developed whole studios to create “native advertising” – a fancy term for advertising masquerading as news. Online advertising is a scourge that corrupts everything it touches.

Bob Hoffman has been the CEO of two independent agencies and is the author of the Ad Contrarian blog

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