Fake News and the end of the world.
Fake News: Reality versus the Public.
Telling lies is nothing new. Accusations of slander, libel, and defamation against the media have a long tradition in politics and in human history. In Elizabethan times the power of the written word was considered such a potential threat to stability that printers were required to be licensed and given a bond by the government. Teddy Roosevelt shrewdly understood the importance of working with the press but he also had his issues with them and helped popularize the term muckrakers in a famous speech he gave in 1906. It was called, unsurprisingly, The Man With the Muck Rake.
“The men with the muck-rakes are often indispensable to the well-being of society, but only if they know when to stop raking the muck.”
T.Roosevelt, April 15, 1906 – Cincinnati Enquirer
The Prez vs. The Press
Roosevelt did not attempt to discredit the entire media in his speech. He was not interested in making an enemy of the press, in fact, he recognized the role it played in a healthy democracy. What Roosevelt was really attacking was the practice of sensationalism in the media. News stories that were based on little or no facts or that exaggerated the truth to create non-existent scandals just to sell papers. The term for this kind of reporting was called yellow journalism. Today we might know it by another name, Fake News.
American's Trust in Traditional News Sources
From Yellow Journalism to Social Media: Fake news goes digital
In an era where the most credible news sources are under attack and a large percentage of the public distrust mainstream media, it seems the truth is negotiable. It also seems that the level of your mistrust goes hand in hand with your politics. But, despite its recent popularity, fake news is not a creation of the twenty-first century.
Wikipedia, very much a twenty-first creation, describes fake news as the ’deliberate spread of misinformation, be it via the traditional news media or via social media, with the intent to mislead in order to gain financially or politically.’ If you remove the reference to social media it’s a timeless concept. What’s changed so much is not the message but the medium.
The internet and the popularity of social media newsfeeds distribute news stories into the pockets of millions of users every day. Real news, fake news, blogs and social media posts are spread almost instantly – there is no distinction. Users are left to sort out the truth, if they can, on their own.
Good News Travels Fast but Bad News is Instant
The dangers in this new world of misinformation to businesses, organizations or an individual with a public persona is massive. A recent study by Northwestern University* said that 30% of all fake news traffic could be linked back to Facebook. With 1.23 billion users, that’s a lot of fake news. Social media is not an influence you can ignore.
So what can you do and more importantly should you care? My short answer is yes there is and yes you should. The danger of fake news, from bogus reviews to false accusations can and has affected everything from neighbourhood coffee shops to five-star hotels. Don’t believe for a moment that because you don’t run the Plaza that someone can’t accuse you of having bedbugs. True or not, viral is viral.
Percentage of 'fake-news' stories that originated on Facebook*
Fake news, Misinformation and You
I have heard it said that it can take ten years to build a reputation and only ten minutes to tear it down. The internet and social media have compressed these times down to ten months and ten seconds. If you don’t have some kind of policy to at least monitor social media and your online reputation, you’re running a real risk to your credibility and to your business.
The Solution: Set Your Own Rules
If you haven’t already, you should set a clear list of communication standards for your company and distribute it. This can be as simple as how you answer the phone to answering media inquiries. You should definitely have a social media policy for your organization and let your staff know what you expect.
Tips for your organization:
- Decide on who is in charge of social media accounts and communications. Then make sure the accounts are secure.
- If you’re not sure what people are saying about you, find out. You might be pleasantly surprised and have an opportunity to network.
- If your company or organization is criticized online, investigate. Is it a valid complaint? Is it an actual customer or another online troll? Answer questions and state your case in a professional tone. Reasonable customers will value your interaction and unreasonable customers will never be happy so don’t try. Have your say and move on.
- Be consistent and professional in your tone. A hip young skateboarding company will have a different voice than a non-profit charity. Choose the style of messaging that works best for you and that speaks to your stakeholders.
- Having unprofessional twitter posts doesn’t seem to harm certain politicians but it can damage public perception of your company. Understand the social media platforms you use and the impact they can have.
- Be clear on your values. If you publicly state that you are an inclusive employer that values diversity then people will know where you stand. Be genuine. Paying lip-service to values that you don’t adhere to isn’t just lazy, it’s dishonest. Sooner or later, you’ll pay.
Some Things Never Change
Unplugging the internet won’t change a thing. Lies will still be told and fake news will still be printed. But, in this era of social media news feeds and distrust of the media, it’s more important than ever to be credible and professional. If no one is saying anything about your organization then say it yourself. Be clear and consistent with your messaging and let people know who you really are. In a world full misinformation and fake news offer your stakeholders something tangible they can hold on to. Set your own standards and your customers will thank you.