It started with politics. It was a term coined by Donald Trump when he aggressively responded to questioning by CNN Journalist, Jim Acosta, at his premier press conference as President-elect. “You are fake news!” Similarly, this catchphrase was used to describe, retrospectively, the claim by the UK Independence Party that a vote to leave the EU would result in £350 million worth of net savings a week. As alleged, this instead could have been directed towards funding domestic institutions, such as the NHS.
Bending the truth, embellishing the truth, a white lie, and lying by omission are all tactics that have long been endorsed in political warfare. They’re employed to influence the vote of the public in favour of a particular party, while damaging others. When I first learnt about such broadcasts on TV, radio and print media, in history lessons at school, we called it propaganda. But since then, the concept is no longer confined to the realms of electioneering. Fake News has become some sort of phenomenon, applicable to other areas including fashion.
The purpose of fashion journalism is to report on the latest trends, critique new fashion lines, interview prominent figures within the industry and look critically at the issues that affect and are affected by it. But unlike the aforementioned ‘traditional’ media, the internet is arguably the most accessible news outlet in the world. As a reader of news posted online, the first benefit to me is that it’s free. And as an amateur writer, I can also pen and publish my own, or at the very least share what I’ve found – whether fact-checked or not – with my ‘friends’ and followers on social networks. I don’t need to be a communications expert, to have undergone formal training, or have years of experience in a reputable, credible media organisation/s under my belt. These days anyone can write a product review and influence the decisions of those that see it.
Fashion companies no longer have to solely rely on befriending journalists to promote the clothes, shoes, accessories, make up etc. that they want to sell. Often untrained, bloggers and social media influencers are beginning to rule the roost, sometimes through Fake News, although not for political but financial gain. Lydia E Millen, The Blonde Salad, Rosie Londoner etc. are a handful that have yielded huge incomes for testimonial-style written posts, images and vlogs with a piece of (usually expensive) merchandise at the forefront. In fact, every other post on my Instagram follows a ‘Buy this, drink this, eat this, look like me’ formula. In between a few snaps of my friends on nights out and holidays, it’s constant streams of teeth-whitening solutions and Boo Tea.
It can be difficult to decipher which posts are genuine and authentic and which are fraught with trickery in exchange for a pay packet. Research, however, by Annalect, shows that not all of us are looking at social media content with a discerning eye. In a recent survey, 40% of participants were reported to have purchased a product having seen it modelled by an influencer on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube or Vine.
Both the Advertising Standards Authority and the Consumer and Markets Authority have published guidelines against brands and bloggers deliberately misleading their audience. Paid editorial content is permissible. However, to stay in line with consumer protection law, it is transparency i.e. clearly indicating adverts as what they are, that’s paramount. Hashtags such as #ad and #sponsoredpost on social media can help to achieve this. But while these remain largely unseen, trust in fashion and Fake News is entirely in the reader or viewer’s hands.