Fake News – risks vs. opportunities for PR

The Donald is tweeting about it, Channel 4 dedicated a week of programming to it and NASA has declared it the biggest threat to civilisation as we know it…or has it? I am of course writing about the phenomenon that is ‘fake news’.

Given that fake news stories gathered over two million engagements on Facebook in the months preceding the US election it seems clear that it has already influenced a traditional bastion of democracy. Bringing the subject closer to home, what are the risks and opportunities for PR?

The largest risk is of course a client becoming subject of a fake news story, for example when Coca Cola’s Dasani water brand came under fire for a parasite in its product causing illness, completely fake news. PR teams need to be up to speed with conversations happening around their brands, capturing stories like this as early as possible using social listening tools and reliable media cuttings services.

A quick and firm response to news networks is needed, using guidelines drawn up in a pre-defined crisis plan. It’s also crucial to extend the response to social media channels and even Google AdWords, ensuring that if people are searching for the fake news story they’re finding your response at the top of the results. Equally, as PRs, we need to be cautious when ‘news jacking’ and commenting on stories reported by others. Commenting on fake news could be as hurtful to a brand as being the subject of the original fake story.

However, an opportunity comes through a strengthening of the bond between journalism and PR. As more news outlets are burned by fake news, it is the PR industry that can supply a stream of accurate, fact-checked news. Crucial to this are our relationships with key journalists across our specialist sectors. The stronger these relationships, the more likely it is that a journalist, when receiving news regarding our clients from alternative source, will treat it with caution and drop us a line and double-check before going live with a story.

It will be interesting to see how companies such as Google, Apple and Facebook combat fake news in the coming months. Either way, with President Trump and his spokesperson Sean Spicer seemingly intent both providing fake news and attacking ‘fake’ stories, this isn’t a subject that is going to disappear anytime soon.

By Kevan Barber