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Fake news, a menace for the PR world.

Everyone has an opinion on the media, from Noam Chomsky to your local tea vendor. Entertaining and informing us, the media and the way it conducts its news has often been under the scanner. From misrepresentation of facts to outright slander, it has been accused of many wrongs. But these official channels of communication are the web every PR professional must navigate. And navigate we did for several years, for despite its shortcomings, these channels were the only source of dissemination of information. Then came the social media revolution, where 140 words and hashtags were all it took to take a brand down or up. Today, it is more important to go viral than to make it to the front cover if you want to please the millennial generation. A by-product of the digital disruption has been fake news. A phenomenon which started off most probably as a humorous attempt has slowly taken a more sinister turn. From reporting deaths of living celebrities to instigating mobs with inflammatory stories, it has become a nightmare for PR professionals who must put out fires caused by it.

Create, post and share

Fake news is easy to create and even easier to publish, anyone with an agenda an internet connection can do so in very less time and with relatively less effort. With social media platforms providing the perfect, and inexpensive platform for publishing, everyone has the power to potentially harm the brand. Viral stories travel faster than PR communication and therefore offer virtually no turnaround time to stop the spread of a fake news. It is often seen that social media platforms stories are shared devoid of any factual basis. The situation is so dire that Facebook and Google are taking strict measure to tackle the problem.

Fake news, propaganda, hoax

The concept of fake news is not new, it has been around for ages. When it came from the government, it was propaganda and when it came from the public, a hoax. But fake news has evolved since then. Social media, anonymity and niche communities have given it a new life. The recent US presidential elections were proof of its rising power. Studies have reported that almost 60% of adults get their news on social media rather than traditional mediums. An analysis by BuzzFeed News revealed that the top 20 fake stories received more than 8.7 million interactions as opposed to the 20 best-performing pieces from traditional news websites, which received 7.3 million interactions. With PR professionals relying mainly on the media to aid their campaigns, numbers like these are enough cause for concern.

Media and trust

People are more inclined to hear about a brand from a third party rather than from the brand themselves. Unsurprisingly then, media relations

are an integral part of a PR professional’s network. With earned media placements, a brand’s credibility and appeal is boosted. Now, imagine a scenario where the third party itself has no credibility and thus adds no value to the brand. This is the situation the PR world is facing with the advent of fake news. People are losing trust in all media as they sort the real news stories from their fake counterparts, thus diminishing the value of earned media considerably. The PESO (paid, earned, shared and owned media) system is under the scanner threatening to shake the entire ecosystem

Fake news and negative advocacy

Communities of negative advocacy, more commonly called haters and trolls have also contributed to the rise of the fake news. With anonymity and a ready platform, it only takes a click to create a PR nightmare for the brand. With no accountability or source to place the blame on, reacting to every news is no doubt a cumbersome process. In fact, some fake news stories circulate for a while before any action can be taken. At this point, any reaction may prove to be inadequate as the information already exists in the digital space.

Some experts have rightly termed this era as the post-factual era, a time where the news story is published first and its authenticity is checked later. In the absence of fact checkers, publishers and editors, click-bait and factually incorrect news seems to be the new trend. As PR professionals, we must work with the media to ensure that there is no gap in communication between the two parties. The media, too, sometimes falls prey to fake news in the absence of a strong relationship with the PR industry. While there is no way to stop such news stories from appearing, there are some pre-emptive measures that can aid in tackling this issue. Through real-time monitoring and media alerts, it is imperative that the PR professionals be abreast of the news floating around. This will allow us to nip the situation in the bud before it reaches a larger audience. Having a plan that incorporates the effect of such a situation will translate into better crisis management strategy. The most important aspect, however, is to choose your battles and not engage with every fake news story.

From satire to sabotage, fake news stories have covered everything and it is not a phenomenon that is likely to die down anytime soon. With this in mind, there is a need to recalibrate our strategies and factor this issue as well. The world around is evolving to present new challenges and the PR industry must change tactics accordingly is it wishes to still remain relevant. With strong media ties, a cautionary approach and strong facts by our side, fake news should not spell doom for your client.


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