Keeping it Real: Using Public Relations to Combat Misinformation and Misinformation
News and social media can easily be co-opted for malicious intent, ranging from taking your money and damaging a company’s reputation to political gain. While the Internet has many positive functions, it can also serve as a breeding ground for untruths.
Last month, photos of a adorable baby albino bat went viral. Russian artist Anna Yastrezhembovskya was quick to take to Instagram, setting the record straight on the crooks who stole her images. “Now they are ‘selling’ the white bat. Please be careful, “she wrote. Scammers deceived some into believing the realistic-looking woolen toy was an endangered animal, and deceived others into making them believe that the toy was for sale on theirs website, not sending buyers anything in exchange for their money. A visit to the “Faketography” section of Snopes.com will show you how common this scenario is.
We discussed disinformation and disinformation with Jim O’Leary, Global Practice Chair, Corporate Affairs and Advisory Services at Edelman; Lisa Seidenberg, vice president of media relations at Greentarget; and Michel Estévez, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Public Affairs and Crisis Communications at BCW.
They provided five tips for dealing with the rapid spread of fake news:
- Understand the motivations. Although they can have the same effect on reputation, disinformation and disinformation are distinguished by intention. Whoever shares the misinformation believes the lie to be true. Whoever shares disinformation makes it up to intentionally spread a lie. A communications campaign is probably sufficient to tackle disinformation, while disinformation is likely to require a broader approach, warns Estevez.
- Know how misinformation spreads. Determining the root cause of the proliferation of a lie is key to fighting back. O’Leary explains: “Misinformation travels five times faster than factual information online.”Information that is simply stated, apparently credible, affirms popular opinion, or any news may indicate effective disinformation.
- Start listening. Disinformation usually comes “from the fringes of the Internet or the dark web,” says O’Leary. He recommends monitoring and, in some cases, intervening in this area of the internet. Expand your surveillance services to include the dark web. Keep an eye out for malicious sites using dark web crawlers or fake news monitoring services, which track hundreds of websites and provide real-time alerts if misinformation seems to become widespread.
- Change your narrative. Be ready. Really understand who can target the business, why, and where they are to plan your response in advance. If necessary, change your communication to address a molehill before it becomes a mountain. “[Brands] must have a strategy and develop messages, responses and backups so that they are ready to go when an attack occurs, ”says Seidenberg. Use snippets from your crisis communications plan as a starting point to tackle false information.
- Leverage your support network. While businesses must stand up for themselves, the endorsements and opinions of credible third parties can be invaluable. But you have to start building those relationships now. “Make friends before you need them” is a maxim in crisis communication. “No one is going to risk their own reputation and credibility for an organization, and in a situation they are unfamiliar with,” says Estevez.
Fake news has always been around, but online tools and human behavior today provide fertile ground for fake stories to take hold quickly. However, with the right proactive and reactive tools, public relations professionals can champion the character of a business.
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