We’re stuck with fake news stories. The flood of fake news has become a niche industry. Despite efforts to counter the problem, online articles designed to look like news yet are completely and intentionally made up remain as prevalent as ever. Most journalists surveyed by Muck Rack predict fake news will become even more of a problem this year.
A wide variety of tools can help create, legitimize or spread fake news, according to research by Trend Micro. Some provide disreputable services, such as selling likes or followers. Others offer devious services like stuffing online polls. Some websites help create a simple prank news item at low cost, while more nefarious services can cost thousands of dollars, according to Trend Micro.
“It’s never been easier to manipulate social media and other online platforms to affect and amplify public opinion,” Trend Micro spokesman Bharat Mistry told BBC.
While pranksters are behind many fake news stories, some websites make up news to draw traffic and advertising income. Political aims or schemes to sway public opinion motivate other fake news purveyors.
Fake news reports often target businesses. One report said PepsiCo is discontinuing Mountain Dew. Typical for fake news reports, it was widely distributed on social media. Although the link appeared to point to a real news story, it was generated by the trolling web site FeedNewz, points out writer Shawn Rice on Business 2 Community.
Curtailing Fake News Proves Challenging
Efforts to combat the fictitious reports abound. Media commenters have called for more tools and training for reporters. Government agencies are creating services to debunk stories that they consider to be false and are considering regulations to punish sites that publish misinformation.
Social media networks are taking steps such as suspending bot or suspicious accounts and hiring more personnel to handle investigations.
Facebook introduced a system for flagging possible fake news. Facebook is testing a feature that would prevent page administrators from editing the featured image, headline and description on shared links, according to The Next Web. Trolls and fake news creators would have less power to alter content of reputable news outlets.
Google introduced features to allow users to flag stories as “disputed,” prompting an investigation by independent organizations. It also tweaked its news rankings to prioritize known sites over less established ones.
At least so far, efforts to eliminate fake news have amounted to mostly talk and experiments with little noticeable impact. Flagging items and investigating them before they spread has proven challenging. Discerning pure fiction from propaganda, spin or sarcasm is also difficult. Blacklisting websites may not be a solution, as fake news creators can simply create new sites.
What Can Be Done Now
Any business or other organization, including small businesses, may be the subject of a bogus report at any time. That’s why it’s essential to employ a media monitoring solution that monitors fake news sites for brand mentions. Robust monitoring of online media and the social web for your company name, brands and key spokespeople can quickly spot misinformation about your organization. You can adjust your media monitoring tool to focus on websites known to produce false information.
PR teams can also:
Respond swiftly to counter misinformation. Real-time alerts will quickly inform you when your company, products or other keywords are mentioned online. Immediately alerted, PR teams can expose a fraudulent report on their owned media and social media accounts. They can inform media outlets about the fake report if needed, and seek a takedown of the original story if possible.
Add fake news to your PR crisis preparedness plans. Meet with your team to discuss and prepare tactics. Brainstorm different scenarios, assign responsibilities for responding and establish a workflow.
Consider human analysts. Automated monitoring and measurement software may not be able to detect a fake news story. That may require human analysts who are knowledgeable about the organization and its products. The content analysis to identify fake news stories could be outsourced to the media monitoring service or done by the organization’s own staff.
Recruit employee advocates. Employees can be potent allies in countering fake news by sharing content with their personal networks.
Develop relationships with influencers who can help counter falsehoods – before a crisis erupts. Journalists, bloggers and other influencers can help counter negative news if you’ve established relationships in advance
Bottom Line: Tech firms have been unable to stop the flood of fake news. Despite calls for action from business leaders and journalists, the fake news industry remains robust. For the time being, organizations can only closely monitor social media and deny misinformation as quickly as possible.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, media measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media.