FAKE NEWS: An evening with CIPR North West

Fake News

Fake News: false and sometimes sensationalist information presented as fact and published and spread on the internet – Collins English Dictionary.

Fake News: Any source of information or media with which I personally disagree and wish to discredit in the eyes of others without going to the trouble of factual rebuttal – Mel Powell on behalf of Donald Trump (complete with correct spelling, grammar and use of capitalisation).

Last week, Myself and Kay attended CIPR North West’s Fake News Briefing to better understand what Fake News is, what media theory tells us about Macquarie Dictionary’s word of the year (2016) and how to practically deal with a Fake News Story.

As covered by Kay in the Yorkshire Evening Post the previous month, President of the United States, Donald Trump, has well and truly brought this phrase into the mainstream, seemingly single-handedly causing the 1000 per cent increase in Google searches since November 2016.

However, despite all the furore around this buzzword, there is nothing new about ‘fake news’.

As Mel Powell, senior lecturer in PR at MMU informed us, in the context of which we understand fake news – that is to spread false and misleading information to dismiss and deflect legitimate criticism for the purpose of political gain – we would be better suited calling out the term ‘fake news’ for what it really is: Propaganda.

Indeed, looking at the dictionary definition for Propaganda: “information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view” it quickly becomes clear that fake news is nothing more than a 21st century rebranding.

Web 2.0: The Monster was Born

Mel informed us all that Fake News has grown into the monster it now is due to 2 primary reasons: The democratisation of Web 2.0 technologies and ideologies, and Cognitive Dissonance.

Covering the issue of Web 2.0 first, and to add in commentary from fellow speaker, Steve Kuncewicz FRSA, any a***hole can easily set up a website, blog, twitter page and set to work spreading falsehoods for whatever reason they please.

Whereas before there were media gatekeepers (due to the high start-up costs involved with broadcasting and journalism), now with the free publishing platforms of Twitter, Facebook and WordPress, there is nothing to stop anyone from speaking out.

Due to cognitive dissonance and our inherent human nature of wanting to believe our views are the correct ones, Mel pointed out that we find ourselves naturally drawn to publications which already align with our pre-existing opinions.

While this is again nothing new, when you factor in the web 2.0 ability of anyone being able to write anything, there is huge scope to create outrageous content that will rile up those who read it.

Pizzagate provides the perfect case study. You can read the full story here, but in the interests of time, essentially what happened was a citizen of the US was so incensed by an online fake news article that he went into a Pizza Restaurant armed with a gun he was prepared to shoot.

To most people, the story was complete nonsense, but due to online filter bubbles, self-publishing rights and selective exposure / cognitive dissonance, it seemed perfectly credible.

In fact, most alarmingly, Mel highlighted that many online users regard independent ‘citizen journalist’ blogs more trustworthy than mainstream media publications, due to the fact that the mainstream media are seen as too distant and part of a collusive, conspirative group.

So how to deal with a fake news story?

With all this in mind, what is the best way to deal with a fake news campaign slandering yourself or your business?

Following the advice of Amanda Coleman, Head of Corporate Communications at Greater Manchester Police, you should consider the following:

  • Know what your skeletons are, and have the information you need to combat them ready.
  • Consider the ways how a third party can twist the information they have on you to make their story seem genuine
  • Use your communication avenues to vigorously fight any fake news story
  • Procure the services of trusted influencers to make sure your side of story is the story
  • Pick your battles and know when to deflect and direct
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