The Fake News Phenomenon

Erik Bernstein crisis management 1 Comment

When false ‘facts’ become headlines

We use words like hoax, misinformation, and untruth, but the deceptively simple “fake news” describes one of the most common modern causes of reputation issues so very well. Media outlets today are in a frenzy of competition, each battling to publish stories that will get generate more buys, more clicks, and more ad revenue. At the same time, the public is primed for outrage and fullman-hands-reading-boy of the natural human desire to witness and discuss a sensational event. Search engines and major online platforms like Google and Facebook are working to tamp down on fake news, but let’s face facts – it’s not going to stop.

Clients often ask us why someone would put effort into publishing fake news about them. We’ve seen competitors trying to drive business elsewhere, upset former customers, angry current employees, individuals or organizations with opposing political agendas, efforts to influence litigation, and of course overeager reporters pushing the lines of ethics. If someone wants anything to appear in front of your stakeholders bad enough, they can do it.

The positive to be found in the rise of this phenomenon is that we have a new and simple term in the public lexicon. Being able to discard often-ambiguous words like “misinformation” and “untruth”, or the old standby “hoax”, in favor of explaining that something is “fake news” should be helpful to communicators.

So, if you can’t stop it, what can you do about fake news when it impacts you? The jump in awareness and prevalence of fake news makes it absolutely critical to monitor for key terms related to your organization in traditional media, social media, and anywhere else online. As the saying goes, knowing is half the battle. For the second part of taking on fake news you’ll need the ability to publish your own version of things from platforms you own and control 100% – we’re talking social media profiles of your own, websites, blogs, special-purpose landing pages – whatever you think will help you spread the truth. While you can attempt to contact editorial staff to have items corrected, in our experience that’s a long shot. You simply cannot rely on others to tell your story right, but the very same tools that makes fake news thrive can be used to mitigate the damage it creates.

Erik Bernstein




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