By Jeffrey A. Davis

Warning: the following headlines are from fake news sites promoting fake stories:

Obama Signs Executive Order Banning The National Anthem At All Sporting Events Nationwide

Breaking: FBI Confirms Evidence of High Underground Clinton Sex Network

Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President, Releases Statement

Not presented as satire and with no attempts at humor, these posts posing as “news stories” received widespread comments and shares by people who either believe the claims, didn’t bother to read beyond the headlines or were not overly concerned about the source.

One of the posts prompted an armed man to “self-investigate” the claim at a local pizza shop, creating real news and national headlines.

And The New York Times recently unmasked a 23-year-old legislative aid in Annapolis (later fired from his position) for this piece of fiction – “BREAKING: ‘Tens of thousands’ of fraudulent Clinton votes found in Ohio warehouse.” That “story” appeared on the now defunct website and netted the aid tens of thousands through clicks to the site.

So while Facebook and Google are taking steps to prevent the spread of fake news, a tactic worth taking another look at is sponsored content (also known as native advertising). The content looks like a news story, but is labeled otherwise.

Sponsored content started to re-surface as a marketing option about five years ago as news organizations looked for ways to replace lost advertising revenue. One of the biggest issues discussed at that time was whether readers would even look at paid content if it was tagged as “sponsored.”

The sharers of “fake news” may have answered that question. Readers don’t seem to care whether it’s a news story, an op-ed or how it is labeled. If the content is of interest and strikes a chord, people will click away.

The potential reach of a high quality story remains a tactic worth considering, and the “sponsored content” tag likely won’t stop readers from sharing.

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