The term “fake news” has been tossed around a lot lately in the news, on social media and in everyday conversation. While you may have heard of fake news, you may not know exactly what it is, what it looks like or what it affects.
Fake news refers to news that is fabricated or deliberately misleading. This form of news exists in a variety of media and communication sources and comes in the form of news, stories and hoaxes. In the past, we relied on journalists and reporters to provide factual news. However, with the rise of the internet, anyone with a social media account can publish content for mass consumption with very little regulation or oversight.
According to Hubspot, 68% of Americans get their news from social media. With social media making it easier for fake news to spread, differentiating between what’s real and what’s fake has become increasingly difficult. People are naive about what they see on social media when it comes to online news. If it looks like news and sounds like news, then it must be news, right?
What makes fake news so difficult is that it isn’t so easy to spot. Not only does fake news often look and sound like real news, but the websites and accounts it is posted on appear to be legitimate. Unfortunately, in most cases, these sources tend to be just as fake as the news itself.
Types of Fake News
Fake news takes shape in several forms. When it comes to evaluating online content for accuracy and truth, there are several identifiers that may help to determine if the news is fake or not:
- Clickbait – Clickbait is essentially false, flashy and attention-grabbing headlines or photos that are used to bait readers into clicking on a link to a particular webpage. By doing this, fake news sites are able to increase both their website traffic and advertising revenue. Look out for capitalized headlines, exclamation points or exaggerated wording.
- Satire – Many fake news sites publish in the form of comedy and entertainment. These pieces begin with an aspect of truth but then are purposely twisted for entertainment value. This form of fake news is typically easier to spot but can be believable to those who don’t catch on to its satirical tones.
- Sloppy Journalism – This occurs when a story is published with unreliable information or the information is not fact-checked for accuracy. Sloppy news is often unintentional but still considered fake news due to a lack of proper fact-checking prior to publishing.
- Propaganda – The fake news most individuals are familiar with; propaganda includes stories that are intentionally written to mislead targeted audiences. It is typically written to promote a biased point of view or political agenda.
- Slanted News – Similar to propaganda, slanted news is news with a slant toward a particular point of view. This form of fake news plays into people’s biases and displays news and articles that they think the reader will like.
When determining whether the news is actually fake, read the entire article and fully analyze the text. Investigate the article’s source and fact-check the information on fact-checking sites like FactCheck.org or PolitiFact.com for accuracy.
Ask yourself: Is the website legitimate? Are the facts and sources within the text accurate? Does the article live up to its headline’s promises? Does it have humorous or satirical undertones? Does it promote biases or lean toward a political point of view? Are other known, reputable sources posting the same information?
Facebook, Fake News and Privacy
With over two billion active users, Facebook has become a major hub for fake news stories to spread due to not only the platform’s shareability but also its access to personal data. Over the past few years, Facebook has faced scrutiny after failing to protect user data. The most notable crisis stemming back to the 2016 U.S. election where political consulting companies were using this data to spread misinformation campaigns to target audiences.
However, political consulting companies aren’t the only ones who have taken advantage of using personal data from Facebook. When we go online, we are often presented with news, articles, content or shoppable items based off of things we like, share or search for. These pieces of data pulled from a user’s internet activity can be a great tool for businesses to reach potential audiences. However, it can also be a tool for fake accounts and news sources to directly promote false articles and stories to audiences who would easily believe it.
Due to user privacy concerns, Facebook has since taken steps to prevent the spread of false information. According to Facebook, the platform has begun removing economic incentives from spam accounts by using third-party fact-checking organizations to limit the spread of fake news, increasing the difficulty for those posting fake news to buy Facebook ads and updating their fraud detection methods for spotting fake news and fake news accounts. The platform is also testing new products to help identify and limit the spread of false information on the site, as well as help users make more informed decisions when it comes to what they should read, trust and share. Other social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram are also implementing similar plans to protect users’ privacy and safety.
How Does This Affect Public Relations?
The spread of fake news through social media poses a challenge for public relations. Considering that public relations relies on social media and news sources to create a favorable public image, it has a responsibility to combat misinformation and prevent it from spreading. To do this, public relations professionals should take the following measures to ensure the information that they, their clients and reporters promote is honest and accurate:
- Use legitimate news sources – Connect and build relationships with legitimate news sources. Research various news sources and work with those that prioritize truth and accuracy in their reporting.
- Fact-check your information – Before promoting any information, be sure to thoroughly fact-check it along with its source. Fake news stories can easily develop by just one fact being incorrect or a misperception made.
- Attribute all information – If you use any information verbatim or substantially from another source, make sure you attribute and give credit to the original author for their work.
- Address the problem quickly – If you do happen to make an information error, even if it’s unintentional, be sure to address it immediately. Provide a sincere apology, explain the mistake and ensure that practices will be put in place to prevent it from happening in the future.
- Don’t encourage fake news – Fake news is easily linkable and shareable, but as a public relations professional, don’t encourage the spread of it by sharing or liking it online. Instead, flag or report it for false information. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram all have methods in place for users to report fake news when they see it.
Don’t let fake news put pressure on your public relations efforts. Learn how to look out for fake news, how to prevent its spread and take action! Provide the real news that people want to see by promoting content that is accurate and by working with reputable news partners.
Denim Marketing is a trusted strategic public relations partner for both our clients and reporters. Click here to learn more about how we can help you with your public relations needs.