Fake news

Dealing with fake news during a crisis

For the last three years around Easter, a story has circulated saying supermarket Aldi has removed the crosses from its hot cross buns (for clarity – it hasn’t).

The story first came to light in 2016, when the far-right group the EDL took a satirical story seriously. Yesterday, it was one of the top stories searched for on fact-checker website, Snopes.

I don’t suppose this has adversely affected hot cross bun sales at Aldi. But it shows how easily so-called fake news can be taken seriously in the wrong hands, and how long it can linger.

The trouble is that headlines like “Lottery Winner Arrested for Dumping $200,000 of Manure on the Lawn of His Former Boss” or “Michael Jordan resigns from the board of Nike, takes Air Jordans with him” (two of the most shared false news stories on Facebook of 2018, according to Buzzfeed) are often more compelling than real news. In fact, they’re designed to be. We share stories that entertain us, outrage us, make us laugh or make us furious. The reality (“lottery winner buys new house and car,” “Michael Jordan attends board meeting with Nike”) isn’t nearly as exciting.

Fake news is nothing new, but the way it spreads is unprecedented. Algorithms feed its propagation, and people trust what they see their friends share on social networks without checking the facts.

In most crises that break online, we see misinformation and rumours spread faster than the truth. This is what brands have to contend with now. It’s hard enough getting the facts in front of your audiences during a crisis. When they’re competing with sensationalist headlines, it makes the job even more difficult.

The rise of fake news makes it critical that brands are honest, transparent and therefore trusted in a crisis, to counter maliciously spread untruths.

Here is my advice for brands on how to deal with misinformation during a crisis:

  1. Monitor what’s being said about you through the crisis, so you spot anything that’s not true.
  2. Don’t ignore misinformation during a crisis – refute it. You may want to have it on record, later.
  3. Establish yourself as the voice of authority early in the crisis. This will build trust with your audiences, who will trust and listen to you over other sources.
  4. Work the truth hard – amplify the facts by using paid social media and working with your influencers to get the facts out there.
  5. Don’t give any credence to the fake news sources by sharing them or linking to them.
  6. Build fake news strategies into your crisis plans.

Almost every brand will have to deal with fake news during a crisis. If you’ve built a reputation as a trusted source of information before, during and after the crisis is over, you can prevent the lies from sticking.

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