The Fake News Phenomenon and its Consequences for PR Practitioners

With the issue increasingly debated by all mainstream media, how is the rise of fake news  posing a threat to the PR industry?

by Eva Mitchell

As we all know, 2016 was a year full of political changes. With the news of the US elections, Donald Trump and Brexit also came wild speculative stories and rumours being published by fake webpages circulating around Facebook and Google Searches. Fake news quickly became a heighted topic of discussion with Channel 4 hosting a whole week of fake news programmes (which are definitely worth checking out on All 4 if you want a chuckle) and even Mark Zuckerberg announcing a crackdown on fake news on Facebook.

Social Media: adding fuel to the fire

Social media is a catalyst for the prominence of fake news, as networking sites enable stories to be spread onto platforms with a vast audience reach. The gossip-fuelled headlines of these stories engage people through the apparent credibility of their source, such as a newspaper website and naturally the gripping headline. With stories such as the Pope endorsing Trump’s election campaign and more fascinatingly gross headlines like ‘’Cinnamon Roll Can Explodes Inside Man’s Butt During Shoplifting Incident’’, it comes as little surprise that people will click the link to find out more (see 2016’s top 50 fake news headlines here).

With a social media landscape increasingly favouring speed of communications over checked facts and accurate content, fake news has been able to spread rapidly with new fabricated content created daily as a result of the need to be first to publish ‘breaking news’.

Fake news being shared through social media also can heavily relate to web traffic and its benefits. Websites can charge more for advertising and gain an established reputation if they have a high number of unique browsers.

giphy (1)A way to promote traffic to a website is by publishing enticing and juicy headlines with accompanying images that will attract people to click to read on. The headlines can be seen on Facebook as a shared article and are increasingly becoming more elaborate to battle through saturated timelines full of ‘communications clutter’.

 

Trust in the media

Yet with all the fake news seemingly centred on politics and celebrities, many organisations will be likely to ignore the issue. However, fake news holds a threat to PR as practitioners heavily rely on the public’s trust of the media to generate effective and positive coverage for clients.

Even if the sources of fake news can be tracked to untrustworthy sites, an issue that effects the public’s trust is when credible media sources share the fabricated news as truth. When it becomes a regular challenge to decipher fact from fiction, it is difficult for an individual to determine whether an organisation’s positive news coverage is authentic and truthful.

How to prevent the spread of fake news

  • Transparency is keyWith Oxford Dictionary naming ‘post-truth’ as 2016’s word of the year combating fiction with fact in an honest and transparent manner is the best way to develop a trustworthy brand in an age of fake news and over-elaborated promotion.
  • Develop trusted and accessible channels of communication with key stakeholdersKeeping stakeholders in the loop of all the organisation’s activities and news through company newsletters or monthly reports, will combat the consequences of fake news if a harmful story concerning the company emerges.
  • Create a crisis plan that combats the speedy spread of fake newsFake news stories need to be added to any inclusive and current crisis plan. With the nature of social media making the spread of reputation-damaging news almost instant, an organisation needs to be just as rapid with their response, this can be achieved through prior planning on how to handle different fake news scenarios. However, saying this, it is important to thoroughly assess the situation and content of the fake news before supplying a reaction – as sometimes an immediate response can add fuel to the fire.

With people becoming increasingly aware of fake news, it is predicted that the effect of stories over public opinion will steadily start to decrease. However, 2017 is far from fake news free. Last year’s political changes naturally attracted speculation and opinion; so it is up to us as readers to ensure that for the big stories of 2017 such as further news of Trump’s presidency and Brexit negotiations we check the source before posting or interacting with online news.

This blog post was created by a 2 nd Year PR student, originally published on her work blog. For further information on how Red Tree Public Relations could help your company with crisis communication planning please visit www.redtreepr.com.

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