“Fake news” has become a depressingly familiar phrase in the last couple of years, even for people who don’t spend their days constantly consuming news media like we do here at éclat.
The issue has become notorious enough that a House of Commons select committee is currently holding an inquiry to try and define the phenomenon and account for its sudden growth, potential impact, and how the problem could be addressed.
Although propaganda and misinformation have always been around, the problem has reached a new level thanks to the changing way we consume news media. Social media platforms have become the primary source of news for an increasing number of people, and the brevity and pace of the medium has made it ideal for a new breed of deception and distortion.
For example, research has found that 59 percent of all links on social media are shared before they have been clicked on – which means users are simply spreading a headline they agree with without bothering to read the actual content, let alone making any effort to verify its claims.
While most of the recent focus on fake news tends to be political, the tactic has been used in the business world for many years. A fake press release can quickly spread through newswires and publications, with costly repercussions for the businesses involved.
In 2016, French construction firm Vinci suffered an 18 percent fall in share prices after a fake press release announced that it had sacked its CFO and was restating its accounts due to misreporting. On the opposite end of the scale, dozens of outlets reported a falsified announcement that Google was acquiring Wi-Fi hotspot provider ICOA for $400m – resulting in ICOA’s shares briefly jumping several orders of magnitude before the scam was uncovered.
Alongside its influence on politics and business, fake news is undoubtably bad for the legitimate media industry too. It’s more difficult for real news to compete for our limited online attention spans, and the number of bogus stories also damages the reputation of the media as a whole. Journalists are under more pressure to ensure the stories they publish are factually accurate – often a difficult prospect with ever-more demanding deadlines and fewer resources at hand.
In this difficult climate, it’s more important than ever for PR campaigns to be conducted with pragmatism and integrity. With journalists rightfully more suspicious of the information landing in their inboxes, PRs can help by ensuring their facts are ironclad and easily verified.
It can be easy to get carried away with a headline, particularly in the cyber security industry with its tendency towards talk of cybergeddon. A good headline is also more influential than ever with the new social media-centric shape of the news.
However exciting the news might be, whether its shocking new research or a ground-breaking tech development, it’s important to rein the headline in and avoid falling into fake news territory. If the story is good enough, you it won’t need to exaggerate anyway.