23. February 2017

Tackling the rise of fake news



In its purest form, fake news is completely made up, manipulated to resemble credible journalism and attract maximum attention and, with it, advertising revenue. The fake news phenomenon has exposed the differences between mainstream media and social media, and the spread of misinformation is not going away. Last month, MPs launched an inquiry into fake news, as pressure mounts on social media and search engines to filter out false articles.

Fake news can take many forms, ranging from sites created deliberately to mislead readers, to articles on openly satirical sites that people spread as news. Almost everyone who spends time online has been pulled in by fake news at one time or another. However, this creates a number of problems for organisations.

The first problem is the spread of completely false news.

Pepsi’s chief executive did not tell Trump supporters to “take their business elsewhere,” but sites still falsely claimed she did. Coca-Cola had to deal with false reports that a “clear parasite” in Dasani bottled water had sent hundreds to the hospital.

The second problem is the inadvertent association with fake news.

Your brand can easily become associated online with content that does not fit the image you want to project. Programmatic ad placement online typically places ads based on traffic rather than content, giving you very little control over where your online ads are placed, including fake news sites.

Yesterday afternoon (Thursday 16 March), The Guardian fell foul of programmatic ad placements, as it has had to withdraw all its online advertising from Google and YouTube after ads for the Guardian’s membership scheme were placed next to extremist material. David Pemsel, the Guardian’s chief executive, wrote to Google to say that it was “completely unacceptable” for its advertising to be misused in this way.

The Cabinet Office, Transport for London, the Financial Conduct Authority and L’Oréal have also pulled their ads from YouTube.

So what can you do?

Some of the biggest brands in the world have already been targeted by fake news, and this threat, as well as how to address it, should be top of the agenda for communications executives. While social media has made the spread of information faster and easier – amplifying fake news to gather millions of likes, shares and comments – CEOs should not be surprised they need to take steps to protect their businesses from false information.

As with a traditional crisis plan, companies should ensure that they plan for and address possible fake news about their business. Below we have outlined key questions you should be asking yourself.

Set up monitoring and understand your target audience

– Do you have always-on monitoring set up for brand mentions? Does it cover all online sources e.g. social media, blogs, forum, websites? Do you have a process in place for flagging and addressing fake news?

– What is your process for substantiating claims?

– Do you know where your target audience get their information from? Do you have relationships with credible media outlets, giving you the opportunity to defend yourself in front of your target audience?

Do not inadvertently fund non-mainstream news site

– Do you know exactly where your online ads are being placed? Do you have guidelines blocking ads from particular sites? (Many companies purchase blocks of online advertising that are allocated to particular website by robots, which means businesses may not know where on the internet their ads will appear. That means you could inadvertently advertise on fake news sites.)

Get in front of your target audience

– Do you have a paid digital strategy in place so that audiences searching for information find the organisation’s message rather than false reports?

– Are you regularly communicating your brand values internally and externally? (Do you have brand advocates that will support you in a crisis?)

Fake news has been an unfortunate product of the modern digital world and digital giants like Google are taking steps to ensure we can rely on the “news” content we see and read. But organisations cannot just rely on social media and search engines to do all the work. What are you doing to ensure you can protect your reputation from a fake news attack?

If you would like to speak to our Digital Team about advanced social listening (White Swan Alerts), Paid Media or influencer mapping, please contact Kemi Akindele, Lead Digital Strategist on kakindele@hanovercomms.com.

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