Thanks to creators, developers, and entrepreneurs all across the world, the internet contains just about anything we could possibly want. Credit also goes to the free speech atmosphere of the internet. Anyone with an internet connection is able to speak their mind on a variety of different platforms (including their own), regardless of the validity or accuracy of their statements.
Of course, anyone with an internet connection is also the target of numerous media outlets that will do just about anything to get you to visit their websites and click on their advertisements so they can continue to operate. And there’s nothing really wrong with that until we bring up clickbait headlines and fake news ranging from entirely fictitious stories to one-sided political propaganda.
There may be another solution to the clickbait and fake news issues online: ad blockers.
So far this year, propositions to combat fake news via government regulation have arisen in France and Germany, as well as other European nations. Certain tech CEOs like Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg have also suggested they are open to regulation.
But there may be another solution to the clickbait and fake news issues online: ad blockers. As of 2017, ad blockers are used by about 650 million devices, or 11 percent of the global population. That may not seem like much at the moment, but adoption of ad blockers grew 30 percent the year before, a good sign for potential mass adoption. Use of ad blockers also has several advantages over government attempts at regulation.
Ad Blockers Are More Democratic
Ad blockers can act as a vote when visiting web pages. Page views are important, but usually only because page views can lead to ad clicks which then lead to revenue. Some ad block programs will automatically block ads on every website visited and can be disabled on specific websites (called whitelisting). Through this method, misleading sites will only profit if users “vote” for the site by whitelisting it (as well as continuing to visit it in the future).
As more users activate an ad block software to block websites by default, the economic incentives will adjust. Single cheap clicks will become less profitable, and reliable trustworthy content (content that convinces users to disable ad blockers) will be profitable. Individuals will then be able to cast their vote for worthwhile websites, a much more direct method of action than voting for politicians which will draft legislation that may or may not be the will of the majority.
Ad Blockers Work Across The Globe
Instead of cluttered bureaucracy and red tape, web developers need only work with the individual and their ad blocker.
Nearly all websites are accessible from anywhere on Earth with an uncensored internet connection, which means their audience is much broader. If regulation is left to individual nations or particular regions, web developers will need to satisfy different policies for each location. This means websites must either satisfy the policies of hundreds of different governments or risk being blocked in some locations and lose access to parts of their potential audience. This can be especially problematic for social media websites like Facebook and Twitter that allow users to post a variety of different forms of content.
Ad blockers work for just about anyone and operate in a similar way. This means websites searching for clicks and ad revenue have only one task: provide a reason for users to disable ad blockers and revisit their platform or remain blocked on an individual basis. Instead of cluttered bureaucracy and red tape, web developers need only work with the individual and their ad blocker.
There Are No Loopholes
Within the tech world is a constant battle between attackers and defenders. This is most visible when seeing the constant updates pushed out by antivirus technologies and operating systems. As ad blocking programs become continuously better at differentiating between ads and actual content, website developers will continue to work to find ways around these.
Fortunately for users, attempts to beat ad blockers appear to be unsuccessful. Some websites will ask users nicely to whitelist them, while others will block users until the ad blocker is disabled. According to Alexa’s web traffic statistics, these attempts at blocking the ad blockers may lead to a significant drop in traffic. When asked, almost 3 out of 4 users said they leave these websites rather than going through the steps to whitelist them. If this is the case, users still have the upper hand in deciding which sites they visit deserve whitelisting.
Ad Blockers Can Fight Propaganda
Not all media websites exist just to make money. Some of them are out to spread a message. That message can either be educational, or pure propaganda littered with falsehoods and an intense bias. Allowing governments to decide between the two is a threat to free speech, a concept which is best left unregulated.
As mentioned above, European governments are taking steps to regulate fake news based on fears of election meddling. Political propaganda is all over the internet, and the task of differentiating between real and fake news is best left to each individual.
In the past, news was mostly spread through magazines and newspapers. Readers supported news outlets by paying for subscriptions. Today, no subscription is necessary for many online news outlets. Users can support a media site just by visiting and reading while viewing the ads.
Because viewers won’t have to worry about supporting outlets they don’t trust, they will be more open to visiting these sites in the first place.
One method to sort out political propaganda is to simply ignore and refuse to visit media sites that have a political bias opposed to your own. The problem with this solution is that it facilitates echo chambers and political polarization. Outlets that confirm your own bias will become the norm, and opposing ideas will be unavailable.
With ad blocking, users are free to read opposing perspectives and hear ideas that claim to refute their own political assumptions. They can read the most radical or extreme posts to learn something new (even if it’s just to strengthen their own arguments) without worrying about supporting organizations they disagree with. Instead of completely ignoring political sites one disagrees with, users can check headlines often with ad blockers enabled just to keep up with opposing ideas.
Ad blockers may even be beneficial for legitimate media that offer real news and thought-provoking ideas with strong arguments. Because potential viewers won’t have to worry about inadvertently supporting outlets they don’t trust, they will be more open to visiting these sites in the first place. And if your goal is to spread ideas, a view without ad revenue is still better than no view at all.
Even though ad blockers are only used by 11 percent of the global population, this number is increasing. As it does, more users will be able to reward the most reliable media outlets and punish those that put forward misleading titles and false information.