How Can You Help Mitigate the Fake News Epidemic?
The “fake news” epidemic is sweeping the nation and is now a topic of discussion, amplified by the 2016 Presidential Election. The enablement of fake news is being blamed on a number of factors: Distrust in mainstream media outlets, the absence of unbiased fact-checking, the consumer’s desire to confirm existing beliefs, among others. At the forefront of this conversation is the criticism of social media platforms for their role in the distribution and promotion of fake news, putting Facebook, in particular, in the spotlight.
As a primary platform for news consumption (66% of U.S. Facebook users report that they get their news from the site, equating to 44% of the general population), the finger is being pointed at Facebook for allowing fake news to go viral via their newsfeed algorithm, which promotes posts based on engagement and calculates users’ interests, preferences and activity when populating personalized content. The result is an echo chamber, exposing users to news headlines that support or mirror Facebook user behavior and views. During the Presidential Election, for example, The Wall Street Journal depicted this by displaying liberal and conservative Facebook feeds side by side.
Mark Zuckerberg and his company are attempting to navigate this public relations challenge by making an effort to strike the right balance between the protection of free speech and eliminating fake news. But, fake news doesn’t just affect elections. It can affect your company and there are things we, as good corporate citizens, can and should do to help mitigate this epidemic. Here are a few important steps companies can take when developing and implementing a social media strategy to promote a “no fake news” zone:
- Validate your own content. Fact check and fact check again. Do not embellish numbers, make unsupported claims or otherwise risk falsely representing your own company on social media. This may seem like common sense, but one false statement can irreparably damage your company’s credibility.
- Remain objective on corporate accounts. Do not use your corporate social media accounts to make subjective statements; the minute you do, you are assigning an opinion to the company—one that all of your employees, partners and customers may not share. Instead, establish your executives as thought leaders in the market, helping them to craft social posts with a specific point of view that is both validated by their personal experience and supports your company’s messaging.
- Share content from credible, objective news publications. Distrust in mainstream media has fueled a controversial debate around which publications meet these qualifications. To help identify these publications for your own company, leverage fact-checking sites like Snopes.com to validate information and do not assume other individuals or companies have done so—check the source before sharing their information.
- Be strategic in addressing false information. There is an inherent desire for companies to defend themselves against false information published about them, particularly if it paints the company or its employees in a negative light. While disproving inaccurate information is an important part of mitigating fake news, corporate social accounts need to be strategic in how this is executed. Instead of blasting out defensive public statements, promote factual messages on social media to help followers draw their own conclusions about what is true. Balance the need to correct misinformaiton with the fact that you’ll be giving fake news more visibility by responding.
- Hold your executives responsible. Your customers, partners and investors look to executive social media accounts and will form perceptions, good or bad, about the company based on the content they share. Although social media is often used as an outlet to voice personal opinions, executives are held to a higher standard and need to ensure that their statements and shared posts are not only factual, but can be proven and represent the values of the company.
Fake news is not just a problem for the press, for political candidates, for Facebook and social media. Fake news is a problem for anyone that believes in the importance of objectivity, factual information, education and democracy. Companies have a responsibility to lead by example and can play an important role in protecting these values when sharing content and engaging in social media.