How to Spot and Stop Fake News

Disinformation is dangerous. Defined by Merriam-Webster dictionary as “false information deliberately and often covertly spread (as by the planting of rumors) to influence public opinion or obscure the truth,” disinformation can impact people’s health and wellbeing, livelihoods, and mental health. 

As PR professionals, disinformation can prove to be an obstacle that is hard to overcome. While PR is advancing certain positions or opinions, it is vital to separate opinion from disinformation.

Opinions are statements that, while not cold, hard facts, are also not wrong, such as what color a new phone should be or why purchasing a particular product is the best choice for consumers. Disinformation would be stating that the phone never needs to be charged or that a specific product will change consumer’s lives in a positive way that the competing products will not.

When confronted with disinformation, PR professionals must focus on critical responsibilities required to communicate the facts to the general public: communication and relationship management and crisis and risk management. PR professionals should routinely update crisis plans to include potential issues and the necessary responses.

PR professionals have access to resources and skills that can help in identifying disinformation that the general public does not have. Press contact information, access to current case studies, relevant company data, images, and videos, are all tools that PR professionals should use to help educate the public.

Being transparent in day-to-day communication and PR builds a trust that the general public and consumer market will hold on to during a potential crisis. Public trust is created before an emergency happens; having media coverage gives the brand a clear voice that the media can help broadcast consistently over time.

Responsible public relations provides facts that facilitate opinions that are in line with the company or brand. Educating the consumer market is critical when building a loyal customer base. It is effortless for a large company to get “canceled” on social media and have people on the internet call for boycotts. Understandably, companies during these crises get involved in calming the negative attention that is happening right now.

To get ahead of any negative attention caused by disinformation, companies must have strategies for misinformation communications into their PR strategies.

If a brand or company is suddenly in the middle of a scandal caused by disinformation, PR professionals should pay attention to conversations on social media. PR professionals should be on the lookout for spikes in engagement that are centered around a specific issue.

When looking for fake accounts, look at follower counts and levels of engagement that account has. Suppose there is no profile picture or bio. In that case, the account is only posting about a single issue. The account’s followers are meager; this could indicate that someone has created a fake account, which is not linked to themselves, to spread misinformation.

Sharing the correct information, and having a strong understanding of what the target audience values are, will help with tackling misinformation. Establishing the source of disinformation and what topics of conversation involve the brand can help consumers get credible information directly from the company. 

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