Advertising and the Decline of Ethics

The Internet is a beautiful thing. It allows for us to access a wealth of information instantaneously and without much effort. What people often don’t realize or recall is that the Internet also gives other people that same ease of access to them. Their social media, shopping habits and past searches are relatively easy to locate if one knows where to look. Advertisers know exactly where to look, and in this way they have begun to infiltrate journalism online. From clogging side bars with “related to” ads to finding their way into editorial or opinion pieces to outright lying on the internet, advertising is bad for society because it is bringing on the decline of ethics and the separation of fact and opinion.

The nature of online journalism is already a modified form of legacy media. In this sphere, selling papers or television subscriptions isn’t what brings in revenue. What does is much less concrete but much more important: traffic. Online news organizations have become so obsessed with tracking clicks and views that they will sometimes have an entire department of people focused on seeing what catches people’s attention. “Such obsession with traffic is fuelled by the advertising culture that came to dominate the internet: revenue is directly tied to eyeballs, as media are mostly paid by CPM (cost per thousand viewers),” and as such, journalists are forced to do whatever it takes to draw traffic to where their advertisers want to see it (Filloux). In a world where people may only glance at a website for a matter of seconds, it is vital that advertisers know what they are looking at and how to keep them there.

Journalists are responding to this advertising need in a way that I believe is much too intimate for comfort. Because they know they need the advertisers’ money as revenue, they simply cannot afford not to get those clicks and those eyeballs. This has forced journalists into a position where viral and sensational news rules on the Internet in a way that would never get by in print media today. The scandal that catches eyeballs causes clicks that will lead people to side bars of ads that are related to the topic, if only tangentially. The entire hierarchy of importance of news online has been shifted by advertisers and the journalists who know they need their money.

By catering to the needs of advertisers, journalists are losing the essence of what makes them important and trustworthy. This has caused “[b]lurring the line between advertising and editorial [to become] a standard practice on today’s internet. Invoking the rise of social media, sites offer brands the ability to directly address their audience via sponsoring schemes.” (Filloux). When a person can no longer tell if they are reading an article, a review or an ad, we have gone too far into the realm of mixing journalism with ads online. Filloux states in an article from The Guardian that “the digital media has grown into a landscape in which journalism ethics are viewed as relics of the past,” and he is not wrong. By preventing people from having a clear understanding of the truth of the message, they can no longer be secure in knowing who’s opinions (or worse, who’s facts) they are reading online.

Advertising has always been a nuisance. Whether it is taking up valuable space in a newspaper or time on a television channel, it has always been a background bother. Now, though, advertising has become a whole new kind of menace, one that tricks people into believing that they are reading fact and not opinion or thinking that a different person or organization is providing the information that they are taking in when they surf the web. For this reason, I believe that advertising has an extremely negative impact on society, especially online.


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