18 Apr Don’t let fake news damage the integrity of your brand
Fake news is everywhere – not literally, but certainly rhetorically.
Since the last American election, Fake News has been bandied about as both an explanation for the result, but also as a catch-all phrase to dismiss political claims and the often dubious statistics that support them.
As an issue it has been mainly linked and contained to those following political extremes, but to the public at large the main issue appears to be what exactly is fake news, how can you spot fake news, and how do you avoid your brand being tarnished by association with fake news?
To date there has been a rather heavy-handed approach to fake news stories, with stories so far-fetched they can only have resonated with the incredibly gullible, or those who find infinite plausibility in conspiracy theories.
The majority of ‘fake news’ is just that, made up stories presented as fact no matter how unbelievable.
Disseminated mainly by those with a political agenda, there is also plenty of scope for keyboard warriors who want to use the internet for ill with no reasoning whatsoever, such as the unfathomable proliferation of internet trolls.
The main problem is that with exposure so comes duplication, and the phenomenon of ‘fake news’ is something that can only be expected to grow.
Manipulating a mass audience
In some ways there has always been a capacity for ‘made up’ stories to infiltrate the media, but before the dawn of the internet there was little scope for unqualified stories to reach a mass audience. Newspaper and broadcast journalists would certainly have checked the facts of any story prior to publishing or broadcasting.
Now a computer, internet connection and social media account are all that is theoretically needed to (eventually) reach a mass audience.
It is worth noting that the majority of fake news stories originate from websites with no credentials – set up purposefully to disseminate fake news. They do however, like counterfeit branding, closely ape the appearance, and often name, of genuine news outlets to sow the seeds of confusion, and as such give these stories an edge of plausibility.
Closer inspection will leave the reader in no doubt as to the authenticity of such reports. Yet it is when they appear as a widely-shared headline on social media that such fabrications can enter the psyche of the population at large. Many people never get past the headline on news stories, certainly not as outlets seek to optimise their SEO ranking. The normalisation of such a brief synopsis of news is a dangerous game in the world of established fact, where the context and details are ignored and so much is reduced to a soundbite.
The very last thing a firm would want is to be seen to endorse, or their brand to be linked to a fake news story or outlet – which would only serve to undermine trust and values of integrity.
So how to avoid unwittingly stepping into the realm of fake news? Vigilance is going to be key. If it sounds too good – or bad – to be true, it probably isn’t. Some of the fake news reports circulated about Hilary Clinton during the presidential election were so scandalously ridiculous it beggars belief that anyone could have been taken in by them.
Stick to established, quality news outlets instead. As budgets are slashed and internet targets hiked, digital news outlets will become more susceptible to ‘fake reports’ slipping through the net.
Only share reports you are sure are accurate, rather than replicated for cheap online hits. In particular, remain vigilant about your social media presence. Only employ the help of established professionals in managing accounts, and think twice about what posts you share yourself.
The problem also crosses over into advertising where firms, and charities have found their adverts being featured on fake news websites. Again only vigilance can avoid this, exercising greater control over where adverts appear.
The inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners Lee has gone as far as to say the spreading of fake news, or misinformation, for political and financial reasons is stopping the internet serving humanity.
It now remains now for social media to take responsibility for stamping out the proliferation of deliberately misleading articles by flagging them up as fake news, while established news outlets may find themselves having to retreat behind a paywall to protect their brand – and pay for an army of fact-checkers.