Go Upstream

Identifying Sponsored Content

Our warning to “go upstream” before evaluating claims is particularly important with sponsored content. For instance, a lot of time on a site you’ll see “headlines” like these, which I pulled from a highly regarded technology magazine:

A screenshot of a section of a page from NetworkWorld. The page is filled with what look like stories, but in tiny letters at the top it says \"Ads by RevContent\"

Look at the headline in the upper left corner. Are lawmakers really concerned about this insane military scope? Maybe. But note that Network World is not making this claim. Instead, the ZeroTac Tactical Scope company is making the claim.  It’s an ad, served from another site into this page in a way that makes it look like a story.

A closeup of the NetworkWorld page, showing the fake \"articles\". Under each one you can see a tiny bit of text showing the advertiser name. An article that says that \"Lawmakers are concerned about a powerful scope\" is sponsored by \"ZeroTac Tactical Scope\"

Sponsored content isn’t always purely an advertisement. Sometimes it provides helpful information. This piece below, for example, is an in-depth look at some current industry trends in information technology.

A screenshot of an article in InfoWorld about advances in integrated systems. A small \"sponsored\" appears over the headline. It is barely noticeable.

The source of this article is not InfoWorld, but the technology company Hewlett Packard, and the piece is written by a VP of Hewlett Packard, with no InfoWorld oversight. (Keep an eye out on the web for articles that have a “Sponsored” indicator above or below them — they are more numerous than you might think!)

You can see how this is not just an issue with political news, but will be an issue in your professional life as well. If you go to work in a technology field and portray this article to your boss as “something I read on InfoWorld”, you’re doing a grave disservice to your company. Portraying a vendor-biased take as a neutral InfoWorld take is a mistake you might come to regret.


Identifying Sponsored Content Copyright © 2017 by Michael A Caulfield. All Rights Reserved.