Remember that old PSA from the 90’s? More specifically the commercial featuring the house hippo? For those who don’t know what I’m talking about (only 90’s kids will get it..), here’s the video for context:
Essentially, this advertisement sponsored by the Concerned Children’s Advertisers was a way to explain to children to not believe everything they see on TV. This stands out as one of my favourite ads of all time because it does a great job at sending a message to kids who might not know better. Some think this ad is ridiculous because there is no way that a miniature hippo could possibly be existing in their cupboards, but fast forward 20 years and this messaging still applies-but in the online world.
False news and social media are a dangerous combination. With the relevancy of memes and fake news sites, false information spreads like wildfire. Recently, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has discussed plans to limit the amount of false information that is spreading all over the platform, but as consumers what are the steps that we can be taking to ensure that we aren’t victim of the house hippo 2.0?
To give a recent example, the 2016 U.S election had fake news published all over Facebook at a rapid rate. Articles titled something like “Pope Francis shocks world, endorses Donald Trump for President” or “FBI agent suspected in Hillary email leaks found dead in apartment in murder-suicide” are both pretty attention grabbing. However, after doing a simple 2 second fact check, it turns out that they just didn’t happen. Check out these articles that immediately disprove those baiting headlines here and here.
Despite how much you would want to believe that either of those would be remotely true, what we need to be doing is constant fact checking. With the amount of technology we have at our finger tips, these kind of articles can’t be taken for face value no matter what your political beliefs are. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve scrolled through Facebook and have seen an article or meme with a caption that I want to believe so badly but after checking in with my friend Google, it’s just not correct and can’t be substituted for real information. It simply starts with understanding that this kind of stuff exists and is floating around at a rapid pace. I can honestly say that false information and its ability to rapidly spread across social media probably had a significant impact on the outcome of the election as sad as that is.
At the end of the day, it’s easy to believe anything you want to believe. If you read a caption that coincides with your beliefs, then it becomes harder to accept that as false information which is the dangerous part. But this takes us back to those PSAs from the 90’s. When I got older, I realized that the house hippo was completely ridiculous-but so important. There’s no way someone could actually believe that they exist…could they? I think inadvertently that ad foreshadowed the wave of technology that would facilitate the spreading of fake news. While the original ad aired on TV in 1999, the messaging is still so relevant in 2016. Now if you’ll excuse me…I thought I heard something in my cupboard…
Malick Ba is an advertising and marketing specialist currently living in Toronto, Canada. His academic background includes a Bachelor’s of Arts in Communications with a minor in Sociology from the University of Ottawa. Currently, Malick works at an advertising agency in Toronto and is looking forward to how he can leave his mark upon the advertising and marketing world. Follow him on Instagram, and connect with him on LinkedIn.