THE VERY REAL ISSUE OF FAKE NEWS

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Did you hear that? No? Listen again. Still nothing?

That silence is the sound of a fake news story going viral.

Sorry to say, you won’t hear sirens or ringing bells as a made-up story purporting to be genuine rapidly spreads across social media and sometimes into mainstream news.

Fake news is a real issue. So much so the editors of the Macquarie Dictionary gave it the title of 2016 Word of the Year

According to the Macquarie, fake news is “disinformation and hoaxes published on websites for political purposes or to drive web traffic, the incorrect information being passed along by social media”.

Gossip and innuendo have been fodder for sensationalist media outlets for some time. Social media is a notorious breeding ground for hoaxes and clickbait headlines. However, it’s now moved to a new level.

Fabricated stories are often published to incite you to click to a website that makes money by hosting online advertisements. In November last year, the Washington Post reported that one fake-news writer claimed to be making up to US$10,000 a month from Adsense.

The 2016 US presidential election showed the true power of fake news when it came to wider attention through the strategic placement of articles designed to discredit or undermine individuals or particular points of view.

Platforms such as Facebook and Google are reportedly investigating methods to attack fake news but it will be some time before it’s eradicated from our social media feeds and online searches.

In the interim, we have an individual responsibility to be watchful for fake news, particularly when sharing articles through our business or organisation’s social media accounts, or even via publicly available personal accounts.

Reputation and image are paramount. If you continually share unchecked articles which others identify as fabricated, the public will lose confidence and trust in your organisation.

You can easily tell a clickbait headline. It usually includes capitalised letters; a promise that you will discover something outrageously weird; or simply uses bad grammar.

Occasionally, we may want just want to believe a fake news story is true, especially if it purports to be about a medical breakthrough or of a miraculous incident. Other types of fake news are malicious untruths, specifically designed to hurt or destabilise.

Always look at the source of the news. Is it coming from a reputable website or one you have never heard about? Does the article appear to be pushing a particular point of view on a controversial subject? Is it trying to discredit something or someone?

Check to see if the story is being covered by the mainstream news media. This isn’t failsafe as journalists can and have also be duped, but it’s still a good step. On a side note, the BBC has published a podcast to help journalists identify fake news.

If you remain unsure about the veracity of the article, best to not share it and only post news and updates from reliable and trustworthy outlets.

The other great danger for businesses and high profile individuals is becoming a victim of fake news. While larger corporations are more likely targets, smaller businesses can be subjected to fabricated stories doing the rounds on social media. It can be distressing and potentially damaging.

In these instances, seek advice from a strategic communication professional on developing an issue management strategy to avoid long-term reputational harm. Challenging a fake story without professional guidance can risk spreading the article further afield.

To sum up, the reality of fake news is to be alert but not alarmed. Use common sense when determining if an article is fact, opinion or fiction and take care and time when considering what news we share with others.

Sue Cartwright is the Director of Communication Tree Strategic and Online PR Advisory

Feature Image Courtesy: Tract Consulting
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