We live in an age of the Internet and social media, where we are subjected to a barrage of information on a non-stop basis – both true and false – and the new digital age phenomenon dubbed “fake news.” According to one study, about 63 percent of people are unable to differentiate facts from fiction in the media. Thanks to social media, fake news, rumors, unscientific stories, and conspiracy theories spread like wildfire on platforms such as Facebook, YouTube and WhatsApp, leading to much confusion and people having wrong beliefs and making misguided decisions.
PR professionals know all too well that the spread of misinformation in the corporate world can lead to fear and mistrust in a brand, unless the company communicates effectively and demonstrates its preparedness to deal with the situation. Misinformation can affect not just external stakeholders but also employees, who need to know what’s going on and that they are protected. This is where the role of PR and crisis management come into light. Businesses with solid PR strategies and crisis communications plans are best equipped to proactively respond to situations involving fake news and misinformation and control the narrative surrounding the brand.
The emergence of social media and fake news has spotlighted the role of PR like never before, putting PR practitioners under pressure to stay cautious at all times to debunk misinformation emerging from any corner of the Internet. The silver lining is that this has led to an increased emphasis on fact-checking and accuracy resulting in well-researched stories that will ultimately boost the audience’s trust in the brand and build their reputation.
What are the most effective ways of managing misinformation?
There are two proven methods of doing so. One, a short/ detailed refutation countering the false claims, and two, providing an alternative explanation to misinformation instead of just denying the falsehoods. The latter is said to be more effective than the former as a well-argued, detailed counter explanation with additional information will be more convincing and help people understand an issue better.
Repeating information familiarizes it with the audience, making it more likely to be considered true – just as repeated exposure to misinformation can make it more believable. Therefore, repeating corrections and counterarguments to misinformation will reinforce and establish the accurate data. A well-rounded correction would include the use of graphs and other visualizations as they are catchy and easier to understand than plain text.
The need for PR practitioners to be proactive in responding to misinformation cannot be overstressed as the longer the false claims are allowed to circulate without a rebuttal, the more likely they are going to be considered as accurate.
Many times correcting information online is not enough, especially if the wrong information appeared on other platforms such as a newspaper or on TV. In such circumstances, the PR team of the affected business can contact the editors or writers of the said newspaper or TV channel and request a correction via the particular platform, instead of issuing a general press release. Brands can also issue corrections via their corporate websites for the general audience. As for internal communications, newsletters, emails and office bulletins can be used to inform employees about the matter.
Because fake news and misinformation is here to stay, PR should take it upon itself to convert it into an opportunity, pre-empting andbusting falsehoods with informative campaigns and conducting transparent communications with their audience to win their trust and establish long-term relationships, which is ultimately one of the goals of PR.