The concept of fake news has been around for ages, it is nothing new, however, social media, for example, is relatively new to humans and it’s far more unpredictable and tends to spread topics like wildfire. The concept of going viral is very common in our technology-dependent society. Fake news have consequences that are much greater than we’d like to admit. Take the US presidential election, just a few days ago ABC News reported how exactly social media and fake news played such a massive part into the election results. I will spell it out again: presidential election results were affected by fake news.
The difference today is that alternative facts themselves are making the headlines and mainstream media have a convenient whipping boy in social media. – The Drum
It is very important to establish that, when I talk abut fake news my definition is very different to that compared to the front man of this storm Mr. Donald Trump. For Mr. Trump ‘fake news’ is anything and everything that put his work, his views, his team, his decisions or anything concerning him in a negative or a criticizing light. I consider myself an educated and somewhat sane human so I choose to define fake news as news that are fabricated rather factually incorrect or ‘spin’. I guess to Mr. Trump clearly fake articles or reports wouldn’t be so fake if these were to praise his massive ego or support his policies.
I am not writing this to criticize the president of the United States (who knows maybe by the time I publish this post he will be the ex-president?). I am merely stating a fact that a very public, very powerful figure is undermining the work of journalists and pushing own agenda via alternative facts like (to name a few):
- It was sunny during the inauguration speech;
- Bowling Green Massacre;
- Sweden, can you believe this?;
- (and my absolute favorite, make sure you watch the video if you have not seen it) The biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan.
“From now on, if it happens on social media it legitimises itself as a potential story for everyone from MailOnline down.” – Gorkana
The even bigger issue is that people read a headline and share the content without, firstly, reading it and, secondly, verifying the source. Such action then leaves PR professionals in a rather sticky situation. When working with a controversial client reputation management can be extremely difficult as it is especially in the social media era that we live in, adding false stories that spread in a proliferatory manner makes this almost (? – nothing is impossible) impossible. To make matter worse, when you’ve got a public figure spewing false facts and the legitimate media reporting on it, this then feeds the monster further, because, so-called alternative facts themselves are making headlines and are becoming stories for traditional media – a vicious cycle, really.
“(…) 276,000 new digital news subscriptions in the fourth quarter. That is the best quarter for the Times since 2011. On the print side, The Times added 25,000 subscribers, its best number in six years.” – CNN
Reputation management should not be the only aspect of this circus that was to concern anyone working in PR. As I have said before, if society loses trust in media then delivering a message to stakeholders and consumers becomes increasingly more difficult. Real and fake stories now are presented in a manner that makes it difficult for a consumer to determine which one is which therefore it poses risk to all news stories appearing in the media. And to add a cherry on top PR professionals need to consider that once people lose trust in traditional media outlets (unless these outlets have established brands associated with the truth) the journalist inboxes will become even more saturated with PR emails than they already are now. It’s great to see quality journalism being recognized again, the failing New York Times subscriptions have skyrocketed and added more subscribers in 3 months than in all of 2015. However, as a PR professional, I am also very aware that getting my client featured in NYT is a distant dream that takes years and years of contact building and smooching with the industry. This, however, then opens the floodgates for bad PR and I can already foresee some PRs putting together fabricated false stories and labeling them as ‘spin’ (not the definition of spin whatsoever) because just like journalists PRs are also pressed to deliver results, gain coverage etc. And while some people like to blame journalists for doing a lousy job, it is important to remember that most fake news stories come from social media. So who’s not to say some of those fake stories are put together by PRs in an office somewhere in the world pushing their agenda?
As grim as this may seem, there is hope. As PRs we hold the power as to how and trough what channels the stories are delivered. By becoming a version of own ‘publishers’, producing quality content, sharing relevant news and with time ranking higher and more frequently than fake news, therefore, reaching your audiences and building that deeply desired trust. Dear PRs, consider yourselves the naughty kid of kindergarten to be put in the corner to reflect on your actions, revamp those communication strategies and go play in the sandbox again!
Go spread some kindness and support quality journalism! :)