Fake news has been one of the top trending topics online and in print in 2019. The conversations moved on from governments putting it high on the agenda (well, some governments) to news organisations and social media companies moving it to the top of theirs.
There’s no doubt, over the last 15 years, social media has changed the way that news is reported, consumed and shared. The main trends have been greater engagement, the rise of video and news consumed in bite-size chunks 24/7. Audiences now ‘graze’ the media, and there’s less analysis than ever before.
The shift in media has had a widespread impact on publishers and journalists, and led to an inevitable shift in the ‘traditional’ PR sector. A consequence is that there is now more content available than ever before, but its quality has suffered (along with the careers of investigative journalists and reporters). It all adds up to a sector in flux.
In recent years, there’s been a rise in organisations and groups which have made it their business to understand this and harness it to increase the prevalence and penetration of propaganda.
History and political students will know that there’s nothing new in the existence of fake news to destroy reputations and influence audiences. During the second and third centuries AD, false rumours were spread about Christians claiming that they engaged in ritual cannibalism and incest. There are countless examples of fake news from history across the ages, but what has changed is the speed at which fake news can and does spread.
Fake news has been blamed – credited? – on influencing elections and referendum outcomes, but it’s not just politics and macro-economics that the fake news phenomena has impacted. Fake news is being deployed against business too.
Starbucks, LegoLand and many others have learned the hard way, with the latter the high profile victim of tweets advertising freebies that didn’t exist. They were just hoaxes.
Costco, the warehouse chain, has been subject to news that it was no longer selling memberships and soft drinks companies have had to defend stories of artificial sweeteners causing cancer.
Mainstream publishers have fallen foul of fake news too, with The Mail on Sunday publishing a statement in April 2018 admitting that two articles it had run about climate change were both fake.
Whilst presidents and PMs are fighting fake news attacks from political parties and nations, enterprise is experiencing it at the hands of competitors, disgruntled customers or employees, prompting technology companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Google to deploy tools to fight fake news.
However, another by-product of this is that PR and crisis management teams are becoming more important than ever before in the battle to promote and protect a brand’s ‘truth’.
As audiences are beginning to appreciate the value of researched content and stories, the tech and media giants are having to follow suit. The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer showed that traditional media in the UK is now growing, with trust at the highest levels since 2012.
Journalistic sources are becoming more important than ever in the fight against fake news, and media owners reliant on running credible stories which take time, effort and thought to commission, research and publish. The mantra that ‘content is king’ is evolving and should now read ‘the quality of content is king’.
This development will have far-reaching ramifications for publishers, journalists, PRs and brands. And it is about time too.