How to spot fake news, and do PRs now need to add fake news attacks into their crisis plans?

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When Facebook, currently the largest social media platform going, says that “Fake news is not your friend”, you pay attention. It’s a buzzword, frequently used and popularised by the likes of Donald Trump, and while fake it may be, these news sources have become a very real threat in the age of citizen journalism.

The death of traditional journalism has been talked about for several years now. It has been described as either the physical decline of traditional news outlets or the loss of credibility within those outlets. In 2016, The Independent, one of the UK’s largest and trusted newspapers, ceased circulation of its printed edition with several other major newspaper reporting downward trends in readership and popularity.

Most of that stems from the change in how we consume our news with many opting to use social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook to gather their news in an easily digestible format. This however has paved the way for Fake News and like the propaganda of old, fake news spreads like wildfire.

How do we spot Fake News? Distributors of these lies, misinformation or spin, have become very clever, often hiding behind anonymous accounts. Determining the route of the information is harder than ever and when large organisations like Facebook and Twitter are used as a media platform to spread this information it becomes even harder.

In its defence, Facebook has begun to take action against Fake News sources stating that it will “demote” posts where the source is questionable. The problem there lies in the fact that citizens themselves have now become the source of news, and in today’s modern age, news travels fast.

Take 2013’s Boston Marathon attack as an example (although there are many other more recent including the Trump election scandals involving Cambridge Analytica). Soon after the tragic events of April 15, 2013 many took to social media to find out what had occurred. Others went further, spreading misinformation about potential suspects via a thread on Reddit which soon lead to the witch hunt of a man wrongly identified.

In short, spotting Fake News can take quite a lot of effort and there-in-lies the problem. The growing trend towards absorbing news as quickly as possible lends to users not taking the time to fact-check or source-check the information.

Taking the time to determine the source of the news is essential. Here are some tips:

·         Is it truly believable or has it been sensationalised?

·         Can you find the information reported elsewhere?

·         Has a major news outlet picked up on the story?

·         Does the news website look reliable?

Fake News can severely damage a brand’s reputation and therefore PR teams need to be constantly aware and braced for an attack. By the time a Fake News story that involves a company brand takes hold it may already be too late. Shutting down these stories can often be challenging as media outlets (reliable and not) can now provide almost instantaneous replication of news via social channels.

It’s estimated that 79 percent of journalists use social media, at least daily, to gather information and spread news to their audience. Making sure that accurate and reliable information is supplied to journalists is key in creating a trust worthy brand.

Unfortunately, we have not yet figured out the cure.

 
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Mitch Hyde
Senior Account Manager, Ridgemount PR

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Kirstie Osborne