The Fake News Phenomenon and its Consequences for PR Practitioners

Following Channel 4 hosting a whole week of programmes debating the issue, how is the rise of Fake News posing a threat to the PR industry?

 2016 was 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 even Mark Zuckerberg announcing a crackdown on fake news on Facebook.

The text Truth appearing behind torn brown paper

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 (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 and spread 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. A way to promote traffic to a website is by publishing enticing and juicy headlines with accompanying images that will attract people 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.

British newspapers reporting on the US presidential election result

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 your client’s positive news coverage is authentic and truthful.

How to prevent the spread of fake news

  • Transparency is key – With Oxford Dictionary naming ‘post-truth’ as 2016’s word of the year, combatting 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 stakeholders – Keeping 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 news – Fake 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.

For information on how Red Tree Public Relations can help people know the truth about your business, please give us a call on 0115 925 5499.