Lately the concept of fake news has been fresh on everyone’s lips, or at least on their fingertips and Twitter accounts.
Fake news is not a new concept, just one that’s been amplified since social media has made it so easy and financially appealing to create it. Anyone with an internet connection can create fake accounts, websites, and social pages and post what they want.
Some have picked up on the fact that writing outrageous and eye grabbing stories drives a lot of traffic to their website via social media accounts and therefore has the potential to drive revenue to them through ads. In a report, the New York Times concluded that the more outrageous and ridiculous the story, the more people click through to read, and the more money that goes onward to benefit their efforts.
The Daily Telegraph not long ago created a useful infographic which lists the 5 types of fake news and it starts with those that are Intentionally deceptive and continues on with jokes taken at face value, large-scale hoaxes, slanted reporting of real facts, and, finally, stories where the ‘truth’ is contentious.
At its core, fake news is just another name for propaganda, repackaged for the digital age. A recent article in The Economist referred to a pro-Assad website which claimed the chemical attack on Syrian citizens was in fact fake news , a claim that was significantly amplified by other conspiracy websites in the US. This claim turned out to be false and was perhaps easier to dismiss by journalists who were ‘on the ground’ in Syria and could report what they saw, but was the ‘fake news’ claim simply fake news or part of an even more serious and developing propaganda war online?
Whether we define it as propaganda or ‘fake news’, both tactics are deemed unethical, and not recognised by accredited bodies like the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) as appropriate methods of communication.
As communications professionals advising clients on all types of media, it’s important to recognise methods in the industry that are unethical, to follow developing trends within ‘fake news’ and to understand which media sources are reputable. Sticking to media outlets that abide by a journalistic code of conduct is one way to corroborate news stories that seem suspicious. Equally as important is maintaining and upholding an ethical code when advising on public relations and communications activity, and actively calling out propogandist methods as they are.
Tackling fake news is not easy – from a legal standpoint, different international legal systems make it difficult to identify the ultimate sources of content and force it to be removed. Facebook, a major platform for disseminating content, is attempting both an educational approach amongst its members as well as bolstering its own in-house resources. And as far as public relations professionals are concerned, our focus should be on ensuring our communications are honest, open, transparent and easily accessible.