In late February a now-deleted video went viral. A woman cycling east down Goodge Street is heckled by the lewd male drivers of a white van. The woman tells the men to stop but they escalate their harassment to the arch-stereotypical line of lazy misogynists: ‘you on your period’?

The traffic lights change and they both cross Tottenham Court Road. Down Chenies Street, the van slows to a halt. The cyclist senses her opportunity: still on her bike, with feet on the ground, she rips the right wing mirror off the van before cycling away in triumph.

Millions of people viewed the video. It’s not surprising: it taps right into the climate of outrage that breeds so easily on the internet whilst offering the ever-appealing narrative of ‘good person gets their own back.’

Its popularity in turn received media attention. The Mail, Mirror, Telegraph and large numbers of other publications were soon hosting the clip and directing their audiences towards it with all manner of click-baity headlines. It was internet gold-dust.

Of course, a few viewers and journalists smelled a rat. The video was just too good to be true, its protagonists were all cultural tropes, the outrage was too sincere–no matter how blurred the faces were.

But how could anyone verify its sincerity? The Evening Standard and The Guardian tried to trace it down to its source: The Content Jungle. This company self-proclaims to be the 6th largest media company in the world and admitted that the footage could be ‘factually inaccurate’. So the only verifiable reality was that it was ‘trending’ and ‘viral’, is that enough to make something news?

We live in an era of fake news and filter bubbles (and if you still find that statement interesting/novel then may woe befall you). People become enraptured by something they want to be true and therefore accept it as such. For that reason, the popularity of videos like these skyrocket. Supposedly serious publications mistake popularity for relevance, and replace a desire for truth with truth.

In the process we all (the viewers, media professionals and publishers) fall into the same trap and end up giving lots of money to actors: an eyewitness told The Sun that it took several takes for those involved to get the right take.

The Content Jungle charged each publisher a princely £400 to license the footage and an extra £150 for social reposting (on behalf of an anonymous third party), which isn’t bad for a half-hour’s work.

Once you monetize the content itself and not the work that goes into making it, you head down a treacherous route where entertainment supersedes news. Which is bad for journalists, established publishers and PR professionals alike.

By Jack George, Account Executive