F ake news is a phenomenon that has plagued democracies in recent years.
It’s so rife that the hashtag #fakenews has become common place on social media and the term itself has been added to the US’s Cambridge Dictionary.
This epidemic of misinformation has reached such a high level that GCHQ has categorised it as a form of warfare, and 69% of Britons believe it’s so harmful that sharing it should be counted as a criminal offence.
But let’s face it, most people – even the most sceptical of us – will have had the wool pulled over our eyes at some point. The journal Science recently published research showing that we are also more likely to get sucked in and spread false information the older we are. On average, Facebook users over 65 were found to be almost four times more likely to have shared fake news on the platform than 18-29 year olds.
This spreading of fake news has become a major cause for concern amongst global communications professionals, with 92 per cent citing it as the most challenging ethical threat to their profession. As it’s become almost normal to see iconic journalistic brands also derided as ‘fake news’, the general public no longer know who to trust.
Brands need to be wary of being seen to be contributing to the spread of factually incorrect information – be that consciously or inadvertently. Especially when we are already seeing some blow back from marketing activities that are seen as inauthentic.
It’s therefore, more important than ever that brands and aspiring thought leaders alike consider whether the information they are pushing out will be viewed as credible.
So how do you navigate the credibility crisis? Here are a few tips:
- Have you done your research? – before you comment on any news stories, why not use the BBC’s measure as a rule of thumb – do you have more than one reputable source to base your statements on?
- Talk about what you know – just as with novelists, the same is true for any thought leader. You will want to demonstrate a complete grasp of the subject matter you’re discussing and project an aura of authority. If you shoot from the hip on an issue you haven’t thought through, where you have little experience or expertise, you are likely to land yourself in deep water.
- Link to trusted websites – adding citation links to relevant articles on reputable websites will allow people to verify the information you’re sharing. You also benefit by showing the reader you’ve done your homework.
- Collaborate with an influencer – if you’re producing original content, consider including an independent, unbiased, third party to corroborate what you’re saying. This will help establish credibility and counteract any doubtful ‘you would say that’ comments.
- Be prepared to accept criticism – in truth, most people worry about criticism too much, and this can lead to complete paralysis. However, to stand out from the crowd, you often need to be bold and be ready to ruffle a few feathers. You just need to be prepared for the possible responses. If in doubt, consult with an experienced PR consultant!
But don’t worry, as people become increasingly critical of the sources from which they get their information, genuine knowledge will become more highly valued and sought after. If you’re a B2B brand with genuine expertise, for example, you will undoubtedly have a great deal of advice you can offer people in your industry, So, you shouldn’t be discouraged by the prevalence of fake news. People will always be prepared to listen to authoritative thought leaders when they have something important to say.
Danny is an Account Manager in the Manchester office