11 Apr 2017

How can you identify a fake news story? How seriously do you need to prepare for a fake news crisis? And how can your communications team put in effective measures to counter any fake news claims?

The work and research Social360 has undertaken to keep our clients better informed about the threat of fake news is something we want to share. Ten insights from our recent Breakfast Briefing with news and communications experts follow.

1. There are different kinds of fake news. Corporates need to decide which pose a real threat.

-Satire or parody intends no harm, but can fool social media users into thinking it is accurate. In today’s world, we don’t always have the time to speculate on the level of humour intended.

-Intentional misleading content can pretend to be something it is not, while not being wholly untrue.

-Fabricated content is new, created with an intention to deceive. It poses the highest potential threat for corporate reputation.

2. If something doesn’t sound right, it often isn’t.

Instinct often plays a big role in determining whether a social media source looks dubious. In-house teams can often take steps to verify both the source and the content:

-Look at the social media account, and see if it is linked to a credible website.

-If you are dealing with a news site, look up its registration on who.is.

-Make contact directly with the site, ask questions.

-If questioning an image, run a reverse image search.

-Run searches on quotes to see if they are authentic.

3. Question your sources

Not strictly limited to fake news, but looking across online interactions, there can be a tendency to repeat information without questioning. Facts can easily then get lost or misinterpreted. Question your source - “What led you to believe this?” - when something sounds dubious.

Often, repetition and retelling a story will make your source question the authenticity of the fact.

4. Corporate comms teams can tackle challenges by increasing transparency

Sources should share background information, allowing audiences to verify content. When corporates are engaging with social media, it is important no third party content is relied on unless it has been vetted.

5. Bad news is not new

Communications teams are well versed responding to bad news over social media. These tried-and-tested approaches can be adapted to the fake news landscape: such as countering the news by owning the message, and using multiple social networks to disseminate the good and true news via key employees.

6. Tackle fake news and not opinion

Companies cannot force groups on two opposing sides to believe the same thing. A well-established activist group campaigning against certain business practices is unlikely to change position. Social media enables them to mobilise groups and make a lot of noise quickly.

But there is a gulf of difference between this and fake news, and it is important to differentiate between actions taken to counter either type of claim.

7. Communications teams should factor fake news into crisis planning

Comprehensive risk analysis is often undertaken by companies who feel exposed to potential crises. Factoring in the impact of a fake news crisis is a logical next step. When conducting a risk assessment, companies will look at their supply chain, consumer base and shareholders. Now, they also need to look at whether or not they are prepared for a fake news attack, and need to know who they can go to to get the correct facts.

Historically communications management has dealt with managing the truth – be it good or bad for corporate reputation. Fake news now means companies need to look at their preparedness for dealing with information that is false but gathering steam.

8. There is an intuitive element to knowing when to act

Preparing for a fake news event is critical, but knowing whether to act remains a judgement call and is often intuitive.

Communications teams need to make fast and accurate decisions on how to respond to fake news and how to engage with it. In-house teams need to ask themselves what they are capable of doing, and how well informed they are.

9. A bad decision is worse than a quick decision

Agreeing whether to engage with fake news items requires a process of examining the evidence presented – looking at the nature of the fake news post, its reach, its force, how it affects stakeholders and the credibility of the source.

Those affected must examine these factors, and examine them quickly. Again preparedness is key. The pace and reach of social media calls for quick and informed decision making, knowing which information to access and knowing how to monitor it.

10. Accessing own employees can be a quick win

Reputations can be enforced by leveraging the opinions of employees. They can often act as advocates of the company, protesting on social media against any criticism and dispelling any untruths.

Building up a strong story on the internal side of the business can give increased volume to noise disseminated outside the business. Often if a customer is disgruntled or concerned about a story they have heard, their day-to-day contact will be the first person they speak to – rarely within a communications function.

If you like to discuss fake news and how Social360 can help, do get in touch – info@s360group.com.

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