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‘Have I got ‘news’ for you?’

‘Fake news’ appear to be the two words on everyone’s lips right now and have even been blamed for the election of Donald Trump. A phenomenon that is chipping away at the principles of traditional journalism. Fake news is the idea that false information is being published and disseminated to the public under the guise of authentic news, either on fake ‘news’ websites, via social channels or through spokespeople. But what exactly constitutes ‘fake news’ and how is it affecting the PR industry?

On a daily basis we consume news through traditional print channels, mobile apps and on social media sites. Often these channels are owned by respected publishing houses or brands, but in today’s digital world social media has given everyone the power to be a journalist and to create ‘news’.

The definition of news is transforming as a result. Sometimes what appears to look like ‘real’ news sites to readers, in reality contains articles based on fake content that is disguised as ‘real’ news by ‘real’ journalists.

The public is able to communicate what it wants on social media too – it can be challenging for their peers to know what to believe. Shockingly, 30% of people are unable to spot fake news articles and even find the appearance of fake news sites authentic. Additionally, traditional outlets are having to compete, turning towards increasingly sensationalist stories to gain the public’s attention. So what can we do about it?

As fake news infiltrates the media landscape, it becomes even more saturated with an increase in sensationalist articles. PR agencies and brands need to cut through the noise to project (and protect) their stories. As more people turn to sensationalist stories for their news, brands also face fake brand stories becoming trusted over the authentic information we distribute to the media. Even one piece of fake news could be damaging to a company’s reputation too, as it spins a web of falsity that influences how readers perceive that company on a global scale.

But we must not let the storm of fake news beat us. There are different ways we can try to tackle its damaging effect. Firstly brands need to have a strong message to communicate. If they are able to have a strong presence against misinformation and stick by their company values and ethos this is likely to gain better cut-through in a noisy market.

Strong relationships with the media are really important. If journalists receive false information from a source of fake news, we can work with them to correct this and provide the facts to counter the claims. Additionally, since anyone can be a citizen reporter nowadays, having a strong social media presence can help brands establish themselves as an anchor point for what is accurate (and easy to find). Lastly it is important that we create content and stories that are hard-hitting and honest in order to fight off the flow of fake news stories.

Even though this battle is just the beginning, taking these steps can decrease the negative impact that misinformation has on a brand’s reputation.

It is reassuring to see that traditional news outlets are also fighting back. The New York Times, for example, has started a ‘Hard Truth’ campaign with a central message of ‘“The truth is…hard….hard to find…hard to know…more important now than ever.”

And while it appears that fake news is going to be around for a while, as communications professionals let’s do our bit to find and communicate the hard truths. That’s how we protect ourselves, our industry and our clients.