Fake news

Don't be fooled by fake news

02/03/2021 12:10:47
Public relations professionals have always looked to leverage April Fool’s Day as an ideal opportunity to unleash fictitious news campaigns with a lighter tone to fool or entertain. But now we live in a world where 'fake news' is as readily consumed on a daily basis as on the first day of April.

What is fake news and why has it suddenly become such a significant phenomenon?

In essence, fake news is false information or propaganda deliberately curated as a fictional news story published to drive web traffic. Over the last 12 months alone, hundreds of fake news sites have been set up producing phoney news with ‘clickbait’ headlines which are then often shared rapidly and extensively via social media.

Inspired in part by public scepticism about the accuracy of ‘official’ mainstream media reporting, the U.S. presidential election last November was pivotal in driving the surge in fake news with fictitious stories circulated in an attempt to influence voters.

Indeed, analysis undertaken by BuzzFeed concluded that in the three months before the election, the top performing fake news stories on Facebook generated more engagement than the top stories from major news outlets.

The proliferation of fake news even led to Oxford Dictionaries declaring ‘post-truth’ to be its international word of the year, defining it as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.

Perpetuated by the fact that fake news websites often have URLs similar to genuine news organisations in a bid to give themselves greater credibility, the appetite for fake news shows no signs of abating. The volume of Google searches has rocketed in the past few months with a staggering 1000% increase in Google search traffic for ‘fake news’ since November 2016.

But now media owners are starting to address the issue. Facebook has begun to roll out a fake news alert which will flag news stories that are disputed by fact-checkers who are official signatories of the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network (IFCN). So, the fake news fight back has begun.

Recommendations for addressing the threat of fake news

Fake news has the potential to undermine the public’s trust of anything and everything, as people can write whatever they want about a company or brand which an audience may find believable. So, the dangers of fake news must be faced by any business. Here's how:
  • Produce content that is informative, accurate and robust - particularly if it’s data-led
  • Focus on content distribution via trusted media outlets
  • Implement extensive brand monitoring using tools such as Google Alerts to immediately become aware of falsehoods circulating online
  • Factor in fake news within crisis communications planning, identifying potential scenarios and responding swiftly to counter misinformation
  • Develop relationships with established journalists and bloggers who can help counter inaccurate news.

The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth

According to Donald Trump, even mainstream media outlets such as CNN, NBC, the New York Times and the BBC have been guilty of producing fake news in recent times. Whilst this might sound wide of the mark on a regular basis, there is little doubt fake news won’t be in short supply within mainstream media on 1st April.

April Fools’ Day has long been seen as a window of opportunity for PR professionals to plot stories that entertain and amuse whilst putting their clients’ name in the public domain.

So, whilst an old adage in public relations is always to communicate accurate facts and proactively showcase the truth, there are certain to be stories that turn out to be April Fool’s Day jokes doing the rounds this week. So beware fake news, and this week more than ever!

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