8 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.

Figure 8

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:

A closeup of the NetworkWorld page

Figure 9

It’s an ad served from another site into this page in a way that makes it look like a story.

However, 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.

An article in InfoWorld about advances in integrated systems.

Figure 10

The source of this article is not InfoWorld, but the technology company Hewlett Packard, and the piece is written by a Vice President 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 perspective as a neutral InfoWorld perspective is a mistake you might come to regret.

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Identifying Sponsored Content by Michael A. Caulfield is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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