Fake News

The term “Fake News” has become a common fixture in our lexicon.  Although the current usage of the term does not align with the original derivation, the prominent role that it plays in our culture bears close examination.  Is it all a lot of noise in the Twitter-sphere, or is there more to it?

How did we get here?

Although the name has changed, the concept of fake news has been actually been around a long time.  In the late 19th Century, for example, it was known as “yellow journalism.” During the run up to the 2016 election, however, Fake News took a slightly different turn.  The American public witnessed what can only be described as a deliberate and concerted effort to provide disinformation with the goal of discrediting one or both of the candidates and undermining the legitimacy of the U.S. Presidential election.  The prevalence of social media turned the volume of this disinformation up to an absolute roar. We all saw the stories.  They were everywhere.  For those who sought to stay informed, it became a herculean task to filter the fake from the real.  The authors had only to start the rumor-mill.  Millions of Facebook and Twitter users took it from there, spreading disinformation to a global audience like an uncontained wildfire.

Given the tremendous power and reach of Fake News, there are some important lessons that can be learned.

  • Truth loses. In the world of Fake News, perception becomes reality. Even the most outrageous story can take on a life of its own and the veracity of the story becomes secondary to its popularity and reach.
  • The proliferation of information extends way beyond the original audience. Think of the 1980’s shampoo ad, “she told two friends, and then they told two friends, and so on.”  Social media has taken this concept to its most absurd extreme.  One click on the “Share” button, and the story is spread exponentially. The original poster fades into the background quickly.
  • Trusted sources are hard to discern from unreliable ones. You may not have trusted the original post, but when Uncle John shares it, he lends his credibility to the story.  This is even more dangerous when the information is shared by a government institution or a previously reputable news organization.
  • Reputational hits are painful and can be fatal blows. Once the story is out there, the damage has been done.  You may be able to stop the bleeding, but the scar will remain.  Think about how hard it is to prove that you didn’t do something.  The victim is immediately viewed as defensive and therefore suspicious.  After all, where there is smoke…

Although there is no cure to the epidemic of Fake News, proactive organizations can help inoculate against it a bit.

  • Assess your risk and exposure to shed light on areas where your organization may be vulnerable to disinformation.
  • Engage a service to monitor social media for references to your organization and incorporate this information into your risk mitigation program. The sooner you treat an outbreak of Fake News, the better your chance for survival.
  • Don’t discourage use of social media by your employees. They can be your first line of defense in your fight against Fake News.
  • Most importantly, don’t put your head in the sand.  The best defense against Fake News is a strong offense.