Fake news: Good for social media, bad for PR?

Written by Emily Smith

It’s hard to deny the vast impact that social media and the internet has had on the way we consume and obtain news. These days Twitter and Facebook are, for many, the first port of call for updates and discussions when big news breaks. But with a plethora of information at our fingertips, sources of news multiplying daily and a demand to drive traffic to sites, its becoming increasingly challenging to decipher the legitimate stories from the false ones.

‘Fake news’ has been gaining attention recently, which indicates it is a relatively new problem. But disseminating false information to the masses as a way to control and shape their beliefs is nothing new. Decades of war propaganda demonstrate that the problem has always existed, but the rise of social media seems to have resulted in a shift in the way people form opinions and conclusions regarding news stories. Oxford Dictionaries declared ‘post-truth’ as the international word of 2016. The phrase refers to the idea that public opinion is now heavily influenced by information that appeals to the emotional and personal beliefs of individuals and that objective facts are less influential, which could explain why fake news is becoming so hard to ignore.

The 2016 US presidential election goes some way to support this suggestion. It prompted an excessive volume of fake news circulating on bogus news sites and social media platforms. One memorable story made claims that a paedophilia ring involving people at the highest levels of the Democratic Party was operating out of a Washington pizza restaurant. The story evolved from emails the restaurant owner had sent due to his support and fundraising for the Democratic party. Despite its ludicrous content and thin threads, the ‘news’ prompted millions of comments on Twitter and even led to one man travelling to the pizza restaurant and opening fire, stating he was there to ‘self-investigate’ the claims on social media.

This demonstrates just how quickly fabricated stories can circulate and begin to produce reactions from the public. Social media only heightens the problem, because it operates as an ‘echo chamber’, encouraging content sharing by those who fail to take the time to consider the accuracy of the information.

Fake news is a significant threat to the PR industry as it weakens the authenticity of the media and its ability to provide content that can be trusted.

With the problem worsening, media bosses are now being summoned by minister to seek resolutions, with Facebook held to account for not doing enough to tackle the problem on its platform during the U.S presidential campaign. It – along with Google – has vowed to get its house in order ahead of the French elections.

In the meantime, Channel 4 is honing in on the topic, launching a ‘fake news’ week to explore the issues surrounding the news and the production of fake stories. The series will comprise interviews, investigations and an interactive question and answer on Facebook live about where fake news comes from and the implications for those who come into contact with it.

We will certainly be tuning into this eye-opening series, which will hopefully dispel some of the myths of modern news.

If you’re looking for social media or PR support, media relations or news copywriting, The Tonic has the team to help. Please get in touch with us.

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