Fake news is all over social networks, so much so, that Facebook have introduced their own “disputed” labels to make users share and read more responsibly. But the problems caused by fake news are not confined to social media they are also a problems for traditional media. How should public relations agencies be reacting to this phenomenon?
1 in 5 CEOs are pyschopaths
Photo Illustration by Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Donald Trump has repeatedly accused the media who criticise him of lying And he is not wrong, the 45th President of the United States has been victim of manipulated information as the fake interview at People in which presumably he said: “the Republican voters are the dumbest of the country”.
However, when it worked to his advantage during the election campaign Trump didn’t seem to be quite so bothered. He took advantage of an avalanche of false news on social media networks directed against his political opponents. And once established in the White House, he didn’t have any problem in disseminating information without fact checking it first such as the “terrorist attack” assumption in Sweden.
Fake news, rumors, hoaxes, libelous, slander, defamation, however you choose to describe it has always existed. In ancient times, it circulated word of mouth, which limited its scope; with the invention of the printing press, came the ability to disseminate on a larger scale; and with social networks, it’s ability to spread has the added danger of being instantaneous.
It is, unfortunately, very easy to find questionable or fake news in all media, traditional and social. In many cases, this information is disseminated intentionally to harm a political rival, a company, a personality, etc. But in other circumstances, these are social experiments to denounce media’s insufficient fact checking practices, and as such, fake news is seriously harming the credibility of the communication sector.
But what exactly is fake news ? According to columnist Ashe Schow in The Observer, there are four categories of fake news:
- Completely invented news, which you can easily expose. For example, jokes on April Fools Day (the only day of the year anyone thinks to check their sources)
- Humorous/Comic type news, which some people just believe are true. For example, satirical media as the World Today or The Onion.
- Reality-based news, but greatly exaggerated. For example, the famous study that concluded that 1 out of every 5 companies CEO’s are “psychopaths”.
- Intentional false news aiming to enhance a speech or opinion. For example, the allegations of alleged “privileges” for immigrants.
A study conducted in Australia on 261 people was enough to post that 20% of the CEOs are psychopaths. (Source: The Telegraph)
Regardless of the category of “fake news”, what has undoubtedly created this phenomenon is its virality in social networks, to the extent that there are companies who now specialise in creating fake news and selling it to the media or webpages who wish to attract traffic to their sites and buy eye-catching content without verifying them, otherwise known as click baiting.
An example is the following video about an alleged sexist harassment of a cyclist:
The video has had more than 800,000 visits on YouTube and many social networks users welcomed the reaction of the woman in the video, who shattered the rear-view mirror of the vehicle from two men that were bothering her. The problem is that apparently the video was fake and it was shot with actors by an agency of viral content. That didn’t stop well known media such as The Daily Mail or The Independent from broadcasting content.
It is clear that fake news has become a serious problem. But what can we do? The solution can only be achieved if we all collaborate to eliminate this problem before it spreads any further.
All united against “fake news”
Fake news exists because there are sources which invent it; media and networks that disseminate it; and users who believe it and in consequence create an appetite for it. Therefore, to eliminate “fake news”, it is necessary to have an impact on all the different links in this chain:
- Journalists and media: can easily dismiss fake news by applying the basic criteria of journalism to verify sources and offer the right of reply to the organizations or individuals referred to in the piece. Unfortunately, the impact of the crisis on the traditional journalism has converted fact checking into a luxury rather than standard practice in some sections of the media. But something needs to be done to put a stop the precipitous fall in the credibility of media.
- Social networks and online media: until now, social networks have sheltered themselves in freedom of expression and respect for the user’s privacy to evade their responsibility for fake news (although they don’t find any inconvenience in censoring the photo of a mother breast-feeding). However, finally and both Facebook and Twitter have recently announced measures to stop and pursue the dissemination of false information. Not before time.
- Governments and administrations: as always, the legal framework appears to be behind the technological progress and the ancient criminal laws do not always serve to combat the “fake news”. However, given the risk that fake news can influence campaigns election, the German Government has already announced legal measures that soon will be adapted by other countries. Good for Germany.
- Users: as consumers of news, everyone can contribute to stop the spread of false information. Just ask these five questions when you find a “suspicious” News: 1) where does the news come from?; (2) who it is the author?; (3) did it appear in other media?; (4) does it include links or other sources?; (5) is it too amazing to be true? When in doubt, its best not to share.
A threat for public relations
“Fake news” threatens the ecosystem of information, of which we form a part. Therefore Public Relations professionals must establish standards with respect to the information that they offer to media. Not adopt an anything goes approach in order to generate coverage: we must opt for authentic and relevant content. We must educate our clients that the best way to get a good impact on the media is to tell interesting stories for the public that want to reach, instead of seeking easy headlines about invented stories.
Last, but not least, public relations agencies must also develop plans to protect brands from fake news and the possible effects on their reputation. Because unfortunately, even if we all come together to fight against “fake news”, it seems that it may well be here with us in the foreseeable future, even if it does have a “disputed” label stuck on it.