The Dangers of Fake News and How To Protect Your Business From It

Fake news has been around a lot longer than 2016 or the Covid-19 pandemic, but one thing is for sure - it’s always been damaging to reputations. Social media has dramatically transformed the ability of fake news to be disseminated and spread, so it’s key that your business knows how to respond. This article will look at fake news, its dangers, and how you can protect your business.

What is fake news?

The term fake news reached its apex during the 2016 United States Presidential election. However, the roots of the term “fake news” can be traced back to the 1800s. A related term, yellow journalism, which also appeared at the turn of the century, shares many characteristics with fake news. One of the greatest films of all time, Citizen Kane, portrayed a fictionalized biography of the American media barons responsible for the rise of yellow journalism.

Simply put, fake news is false or misleading information presented as news. It includes information that can’t be verified or is not factual despite being presented as such. It applies to unsubstantiated news articles and clickbait headlines that don’t contain their promised content. Finally, satirical commentary or content that offers itself as genuine can also be fake news.

Today, whatever you want to call it, fake news continues to persist and represents a problem for all businesses and individuals. Learning more about fake news is the first step in understanding how to tackle this social issue and prevent it from impacting your business’ bottom line.

The 7 types of fake news

Generally, there are 7 types of fake news:

  1. Satire or Parody - Here, there’s no intention for harm, but it has the potential to fool people. Think news sites like The Onion, Babylon Bee, and Reductress.
  2. Misleading Content - This is when news sites use information to frame an issue or an individual in a certain way.
  3. Imposter Content - This variation of fake news impersonates genuine content and news sources.
  4. Fabricated Content - Entirely false content designed to deceive and do harm.
  5. False Connection - This is essentially clickbait. In this scenario, headlines, visuals, and captions don’t support the available content.
  6. False Context - Genuine content, but it’s shared with untrue contextual information.
  7. Manipulated Content - Genuine content and images that have been doctored and manipulated to deceive.

7 types of fake news

More than just fake news

As the 7 types of fake news demonstrate, a spectrum of fake news can be identified:

  • On one end is whether or not the content is intended to do harm
  • On the other end is content specifically designed to trick and mislead people

Recently, because the term is so politically charged, some researchers have suggested moving away from the phrase “fake news” and opting instead for “information disorder” or “information pollution.” Often, public figures will call news sources “fake news” to discredit them when their reputation is under attack.

What’s driving the rise of fake news?

Even though misleading news has been around for a long time, recent trends on social media have exacerbated the problems associated with fake news. A Pew Research Center study reported that more than 50% of Americans get news from social media. As such, social media has become a fast and convenient way to disseminate news, whether real or fake.

Additionally, fake news plays on our own biases. Over 38% of Americans have accidentally shared fake news, so when we see information confirming something we already believe, it makes it much easier to reshare it, even if it’s not true or vetted.

How does fake news impact your business?

Importantly, fake news has caused a huge loss in the trust of websites and news agencies that are trustworthy. That’s because of increased skepticism around news websites that may publish real news and fake and misleading stories simultaneously. 

Businesses should be particularly worried because stories that can damage your reputation can be even more difficult to control. Negative news on your business or an individual can harm your ability to acquire prospective customers. Even worse, you can lose existing customers. Because fake news is so sensational, the damage can be almost impossible to control once it gets started.

Responding to fake news 101

Let’s face it, you can’t stop every mean Tweet about you or your business, but you can decide how you respond and mitigate the impact of fake news.

Anticipate fake news

The first step to take when handling fake news is to understand that it will happen. This means developing a plan for responding. Your plan is like an insurance policy against fake news and stories. It should include how you respond, where the response will be, and how to move on after the incident. Although it’s difficult to know what the content of the fake news might be, having a plan is the first step in ensuring you mitigate the damage.

Develop your online presence

When looking to manage your reputation, whether it’s to improve it or combat fake news, the best defense is to have a strong online presence. In the face of deciding whether or not something is true about you or your business, people will seek out information online to form their opinions. Cultivate an authentic online presence and leverage transparency and honesty to build trust and a positive reputation with your audience. When fake news strikes, you’ll be able to fall back on this positive, strong online presence to weather the storm in your own online Xanadu.

Stay aware of what fake news is out there

It’s important to stay abreast of what fake news is out there too. Your marketing and brand team should work together to identify potential fake news about your company. If you’re an individual reading this, consider just Googling yourself or searching for yourself online. Chances are you have a web domain, but check and see if other false web domains mimic yours. If you don’t know what’s out there, it’s impossible to respond.

Measure intentions

Earlier, we mentioned the importance of intent when it comes to fake news. Understanding the purpose of fake stories is key to deciding how you proceed. Satire or other forms of comedy may suggest something different from scandalous fake stories. It’s important to identify where the source is coming from. Consider what someone could gain by publishing the information. Finally, consider if the claims can be refuted easily or not.

Tell the truth

The best tool you have in your fight against fake news is the power to tell the truth. If you determine you must respond, do so quickly and clearly to tamp down on the fake story. Like when measuring intentions, remember to consider whether or not you even need to respond. Sometimes a response can make things worse.

Utilize social media and reputation management

Social media can be used to spread lies and misinformation even as part of your advertising strategy, which can damage your online reputation and cause you to lose customers. But, it can also be used as a tool to tell your side of the story - the truth. 

Social media also comes with a wealth of tools for reporting and removing fake news. Once you’ve put your plan in place, make sure you report any fake news you come across. That way, you can hopefully halt the spread of misinformation and continue engaging with your followers and spreading positive, truthful content.

Finally, consider utilizing reputation management services. ReputationX offers a whole suite of services for managing your reputation online. By using the help of reputation management professionals, you can ensure that only the truth is what people come across.

Roll with the punches

Sometimes all you can do is wait for things to blow over. Remember, not every fake news story will stay in the limelight for long, and they might not all need reputation repair. In most cases, even the worst story will eventually make its way out of the public consciousness. Whether you decide to try and set the record straight or just let the stories run their course, the best thing you can do is to focus on building great content online and act as authentic as possible.

Final thoughts

Fake news has been around for a long time; in its most recent incarnation, however, it is dramatically more dangerous than before. Yet, with more attention comes more protection: the recent American presidential election has brought fake news to the forefront of public attention, making it much more likely that others will be more aware of fake news stories and better able to identify them.

If you find yourself (or your business) at the forefront of fake news stories, first consider the impact it may have on your business. Once you've carefully analyzed the situation, you will be ready to follow the suggestions outlined in this article to develop a strategy to help mitigate the crisis. 

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