While scrolling through Facebook recently, I read a post listing several “facts” about U.S. connections with Ukraine. Normally, I scroll past political posts without a second thought. But this one bothered me. Not because of any personal political affiliation or opinion—but because the information was completely false.
Fake news is quickly becoming an epidemic, and as a public relations professional it scares and angers me how often and how quickly completely fabricated stories circulate.
Why? First, the illusory effect: the fact that if a lie is repeated enough times, you’ll begin to believe it’s true.
Second, the impact on the PR profession. The goal of the media relations function of public relations is to share stories with reporters to get them to publish accurate information to influence others to care and act. We do our jobs with integrity, report only the facts, and run press materials through legal departments to ensure we’re never overstating or misrepresenting any claims or information. So, if we’re held to a higher standard of reporting, it’s unfair that others can publish completely false information.
Finally, it’s the effect that fake news has on consumers’ views of news media. With so much false information, consumers are skeptical and it erodes the trust they should have in the media.
How can we combat fake news?
As a communications professional, it’s your duty to help remedy the crisis of fake news. Here are a few ways:
Consider the journalist or media.
Today, nearly anyone can be a journalist. So, as you consume “news”, look at the source to determine the likelihood of truth and accuracy. Is it on a satirical website? Social media? Blog? Unless it’s from a credible news source, be weary that the information could be fake.
Do your research.
Ninety-percent of statistics are made up. I just made that up. But point being, statistics are a popular way to draw in consumers and create the illusion of truth. So, don’t take them at face value. Check the citations and dates of research to ensure it’s from a reputable source and not outdated. For instance, a study or statistic could have been true at some point, but if it’s more than a few years old, the information could no longer be fact.
Find the source.
Wondering if a story, stat or claim is true? Don’t just google to see if the information is on other sites. Remember, once fake news is printed, it is often reshared in many other outlets to make it seem as if it is true. (Remember the illusory effect?) Sites like Snopes are excellent at setting the record straight.
Now that you know how to spot fake news, the only way to combat it is to be vigilant to put a stop to its recirculation. If you see a friend sharing inaccuracies—ask them to remove their post. Add comments to articles stating the false claims, adding a link to the accurate information. We can’t stop fake news, but we can at least do our part to keep it from being reposted or repeated.