Fake news has been an issue since the beginning of the social media age. The easy access to all types of information and sharing tools has caused global confusion over what's true or false in the digital space. There are thousands of people commenting on satirical comedy sites believing the clearly comedy articles, with sites like literallyunbelievable.org dedicating entire sites to their reactions. Today, we can witness that the problem has evolved to even more dangerous levels however, where misleading information is capable of affecting public's decisions on important matters and fake news is spread for nefarious, rather than comedic, impact.
Let's make it clear, fake stories are not about paid journalists and content creators who build their content strategies on fact-checking and editorial codes, and who take full responsibility if a piece is misleading. Fake news spreads both intentionally and unintentionally, firstly fueled by certain beliefs and then picked up by followers. News, features, headlines, tweets, posts, photographs - all types of digital content may fall into the 'fake category.'
Why is fake news so popular? Firstly, because from the reader's perspective, it's time-consuming to fact check every piece of information, and secondly, because many tend to believe stories that reaffirm the beliefs they already hold.
Big name brands are among the most targeted because they have access to large audiences. The misleading information can appear under fake URLs, quotes can be used out of context, photographs can be heavily edited - you name it. Most of the time, fake content contains a 'sensational factor' and consequently this information becomes viral fast.
The US elections became a triggering point that made many people think about how much influence fake news has in shaping opinions about certain events and companies. PepsiCo was an example, where misquotation and fabrication had an immediate negative impact on their brands.
PepsiCo faced scrutiny and a boycott of their brands after the company's CEO Indra Nooyi was misquoted by sources like Truthfeed, the Gateway Pundit, and Conservative Treehouse as saying that Donald Trump supporters should 'take their business elsewhere', - the quote was pulled out of context from her interview at the New York Times Dealbook Conference. The misinformation then spread from the Conservative Treehouse, featuring the headline 'Massive Stewardship Fail - PepsiCo CEO Tells Trump Supporters To Take Their Business Elsewhere.' The blog post was then picked up by other fake news sites and ended in encouraging people to boycott products of all company's brands, using a hashtag #boycottPepsi.
As the fake news issue accelerates and effective global solutions are yet to come, here are some tips on how brands can tackle the situation and avoid devastating consequences:
Embrace the crisis
If a brand was affected by fake news, and it's already spread across a large part of the customer base, reassuring people by making official statements and publishing emergency press releases would only grant a short term relief.
Instead, it's worth making the best of the crisis and looking at it as an opportunity. Don't reply to the negative with more negative by blaming circumstances and people for sharing this news. Instead, increase efforts on spreading positive news about your brand. Spreading, in this instance, means flooding, so a company's SEO is filled with a positive narrative.
Dealing with fake news is the same as dealing with trolls, where the most important rule is - never feed the trolls.
Ensure your employees know the truth
If a company faced a challenge, it needs to ensure each and every employee is equipped with the right message. To do this, everyone in the company needs to know what happened and where the truth lies. There is always a chance that an employee may express their own opinion about the company on social media, and if this opinion is ever based on fake news - a single spark is enough to start a fire.