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The overwhelming fakeness of today's internet

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

There's a reckoning coming over fakeness online, as people increasingly realize the dangers of an online ecosystem where everything is definitely not all right.

The big picture: "Everything that once seemed definitively and unquestionably real now seems slightly fake; everything that once seemed slightly fake now has the power and presence of the real," Max Read writes for New York Magazine.

  • "How much of the internet is fake? Studies generally suggest that, year after year, less than 60 percent of web traffic is human; some years, according to some researchers, a healthy majority of it is bot."
  • "The internet has always played host in its dark corners to schools of catfish and embassies of Nigerian princes, but that darkness now pervades its every aspect."

Why it matters: Legit media companies and businesses need to be making decisions for their human customers. That gets harder for everyone when bots and fake metrics swamp the internet.

A partial list of fake things online, compiled by NYMag:

  • Metrics: Facebook is being sued over how its video view count is measured.
  • People: Faked video views, sold by the thousands, and "click farms" where phones and computers are controlled to watch content or visit sites.
  • Content: On the benign side, you can find YouTube videos with versions of popular children's characters like Elsa from "Frozen." On the malignant side, there are "deepfakes" that will blur the line of reality.

Be smart, from some of my Axios colleagues:

  • Tech editor Scott Rosenberg: "Fake metrics" have always been with us — from print circulation figures, which were always inflated, to the infamously unreliable Nielsen box. Fake is cheaper than ever online so there's more of it, but so much of it is a shadow-puppet play being performed in the ad marketplace with very little actual impact on users. (But lots on businesses.)
  • Rameez Tase, VP of Audience Development & Insights: "Much of the ecosystem is built on false premises: People create fake news to get fake traffic, reinforced by fake metrics, predicated on business models that don't work. Then it seeps into real-life discourse, where people discuss fake news as if it's real."

Go deeper, via Axios' Sara Fischer, who writes our weekly Media Trends newsletter: