“Fake news is as serious as a heart attack. The industry should be aggressively banding together with industry bodies and academia to combat it at the professional level and prepare at the academic level,” says Salesforce EVP and chief communications officer Corey duBrowa.
In fact, 51% of journalists rated fake news as a serious problem, according to Cision’s 2017 Global Social Journalism Study.
In April, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission cracked down on alleged stock promotion schemes, charging 27 individuals and entities for secretly paying writers to post hundreds of favorable articles potential investors believed where unbiased analysis on financial websites.
During Hurricane Harvey recovery efforts in late August, officer Haley Morrow of the Beaumont Police asked the public to only share information from credible official accounts or from local news to curtail the problems being caused by the spread of fake news during an already difficult time. Citizens alarmed by reading fake news were flooding over-burdened police and rescue centers and hindering rescue efforts.
— Christiaan Triebert (@trbrtc) August 28, 2017
The picture of planes underwater at Houston is #FakeNews. Don’t share it.
Photoshop. Not even Houston: LaGuardia.https://t.co/wjg76QRkS8
— Mark Mercer (@mcmxs) August 30, 2017
To combat fake news, PR pros stressed the importance of having a set of rigorous professional standards, an adequate level of media literacy in the country, and collaboration across the media spectrum. They emphasized telling the truth, upholding credible media outlets, and outing those who spread misinformation.
“The industry needs to closely monitor where we work to place news and, even more importantly, where we pay to amplify news,” says Jonathan Adashek, Nissan’s VP of global comms and chief communications officer. “If it isn’t a credible source, we must stay away, no matter what impact it has on our metrics.”
Annabel Fox, MD of W Communications Asia in Singapore, adds, “No one has managed to legislate the internet in the same way as traditional media. It’s time for government and digital companies [from social to search] to collectively come up with a solution.”
Organizations across many fronts are taking action to understand how to combat the spread of fake news and educating stakeholders on how to recognize it.
A recent study from Indiana University in Bloomington found social bots play an integral role in disseminating fake news and are programmed to target tweets to influential users. Study lead Chengcheng Shao believes curtailing the use of bots would help mitigate the problem.
Fake news is irresponsible; we need the purveyors of aggregated news to beef up their human interaction with the content. We know that no algorithm exists today to weed out fake news, but we should advocate that it be eradicated. It dumbs down society and is an ‘energy vampire’ from the real issues that need to be addressed
Linda Rutherford, Southwest Airlines
To educate an estimated 29 million in Germany, Facebook published full-page notices in German newspapers advising readers how to spot fake news and partnered with fact-checking organization Correctiv to address suspect content flagged by Facebook users.
Professors at the University of Texas at Arlington are creating a program that will help stop the spread of fake news by alerting readers when posts or comments on social media posts have likely been generated by automated social media accounts.
“Fake news is something we have been addressing in the last few months. We’ve been working with third parties to look at fact checking. We are looking at particular users who are sharing content that is low quality. As a result, whether it is in the U.S. or other markets, or broadly looking at what people are sharing, we are making sure [content shared on our site] is the best it can be,” says Facebook CMO Gary Briggs.
Targeting spammers to eradicate low-quality content
In a Facebook blog post published in June, the social media giant said it will target people on Facebook “who routinely share vast amounts of public posts per day, effectively spamming people’s feeds. Our research further shows that the links they share tend to include low-quality content such as clickbait, sensationalism, and misinformation. As a result, we want to reduce the influence of these spammers and deprioritize the links they share more frequently than regular sharers.”
Facebook will also provide related articles on a trending topic that offer fact-checked articles and perspectives and use technology to detect more potential hoaxes and send them to third-party fact checkers.
Marcomms leaders feel that the discipline of PR is ideally positioned to help combat the problem.
“The cardinal rule of PR is to ensure accuracy and clarity in our work. The challenge in today’s world is the proliferation of different sources that make identifying fake news more challenging and facilitates its dissemination faster than ever before. Communicators must remain constantly vigilant and look for ways to tell their story across all mediums,” says Jon Harris, SVP and CCO, ConAgra Foods.
“Marketing and communications needs to over-deliver on what our customers actually want – clear, honest messages about things that matter to them,” adds Tom Eslinger, global chief creative officer at Burson-Marsteller.
Marcomms leaders on the fight against fake news
“The industry needs to closely monitor where we work to place news and, even more importantly, where we pay to amplify news. If it isn’t a credible source, we must stay away, no matter what impact it has on our metrics.”
Jonathan Adashek, chief communications officer, Nissan
“Fake news undermines public trust in objective facts and professional, impartial news media: vital components to a functioning democracy. The first step is to address the perverse economic incentives that fuel bad actors in the opaque world of programmatic advertising and social distribution.”
Darcy Keller, chief communications and marketing officer, Financial Times
“The future will continue to include important media, respected influencers and the power of amplification, but all via increased need for relevancy and transparency. The era of the empowered citizen is upon us, and we must lean on research and strategic insights more than ever to help our work stay true.”
Daryl McCullough, chairman, Citizen Relations
“Fake news is a growing issue that is undermining the public’s trust in the role of the media. There is no ‘silver bullet’ solution; it will require collaboration across many areas – public awareness, crowd-sourcing, technological solution, social-media platforms self-policing and, potentially, government legislation/intervention.”
Andrew Pickup, senior director, communications, Asia, Microsoft
“Fake news is an increasing risk, not only for the industry but also for clients. Maintaining that trusted relationship with top-tier media is going to be critical for our industry in order to maintain our position as a trusted adviser with the client and with the media. Remaining vigilant and questioning content and context has never been more important.”
Roz Thomas, MD, South Africa, Hill+Knowlton Strategies
“Fake news is a ‘clear and present danger.’ And so is calling things you don’t like fake news, whether you’re the president, a CEO, or a PR pro. There are no silver bullets, but differentiating the systems that deliver true editorial content versus those that are subject to manipulation [even on something as simple as reach] would be a start.”
Damon Jones, director, external communications, Procter & Gamble