Responding to Fake News in PR and Beyond

Written by Loren Dingwall on April 3, 2017

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With the recent rise of fake news, it can be increasingly challenging to distinguish fact from fiction. Social media has become a particular platform for misinformation. Regardless of politics, fake news and misinformation pose challenges for those of us working in PR—and those of us on social media!

Public relations relies on media coverage in trusted outlets, through which clients build relationships with their audiences. However, audiences have grown less trusting of traditional mainstream news outlets and in some cases, are turning to alternative news sources for information. With social media becoming a popular vehicle for reading and spreading news articles, it’s easy for messages and facts to get lost in the noise. Forbes reported last year that 62% of American adults get news from a social media.

How can PR professionals react to the rise of fake news? While these points are certainly not exhaustive, I’ve done some research to provide tips on how to deal with fake news.

  • Crisis communications planning could not be more essential.
    As much as we would like to avoid it, our clients and organizations may fall victim to false rumours and stories. It’s important to have a plan for these types of scenarios before they happen, to ensure that a plan is in place to address these issues when and if a crisis happens. It’s also important to consider the medium through which to address the crisis, as it can have an impact on how your response is perceived by the public and on the reputation of your client.
  • Avoid trolls and ignore the nasty comments. As PR writer and professional Robert Wynne wrote in Forbes, many of these individuals have a lot of time on their hands to be mean. It’s best to ignore them and not feed into the situation. Blocking them and responding to the issue in other ways is more prudent.
  • Focus on facts and transparency. UK-based PR publication PR Moment notes that transparency is a powerful tool in the PR pro’s arsenal. Being proactive and fully transparent about the facts is key to providing clarity to issues regarding misinformation. Honesty is a great policy!

We may encounter false information on social media outside of our professional lives too. Especially when scrolling through content multiple times a day, we may see headlines and remember only that message—whether or not the information is from a credible source.

Here are more tips on how to approach misinformation on social media:

  • Share with care—though it’s tempting to hit the share button right away, make sure you’ve read the full article of what you’re sharing first.
  • Do your own fact checking—do a quick search to see if the same information is cited in other reputable media outlets (eg. CBC, BBC, and CNN among others). If so, it’s likely a credible story.
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