Managing Fake News in the Real World

As you may remember, in 2016, Oxford Dictionaries named “post-truth” as the word of the year, beating out noteworthy competitors such as “adulting,” “woke” and perhaps my personal favorite, “coulrophobia,” which refers to “the extreme or irrational fear of clowns.” So why, then, was “post-truth” 2016’s word of the year rather than one of its equally made-up-sounding opponents?

Well, for starters, the word is still incredibly timely, even two years later. We may or may not be living in a world where what people want to hear matters more than what’s actually true. Some of you may recognize this all-too-familiar disconnect when you come across what we as a collective have started referring to as “fake news,” or a type of yellow journalism that deliberately propagates misinformation and hoaxes in order to mislead and increase readership. But why would posting false information increase readership? Good question.

On the one hand, readership is already on the side of fake news with more than 80 percent of college students struggling to identify biased content from the facts. Basically, this means that nearly every college student surveyed may be reading fake news—at any given time—and not even know it.

On the other hand, the way we get our news is changing, and unfortunately, it’s changing on the side of fake news. According to the Pew Research Center, 54 percent of U.S. citizens ages 18-29 use social networking sites (like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) to get a daily download of trends and top headlines, while 69 percent of those within the same demographic use the Internet in a broader sense to get their news. In this situation, the “Internet” can refer to anything from USA Today to The Onion (yikes).

But wait—while you’re falling back in your seat overtaken by shock and awe that anyone would think an article entitled “Bath & Body Works Now Offering Free Lotion Tastings” is real news—keep in mind that social media use among those with less than a bachelor’s degree increased to 69 percent in 2017. Those with lower education levels are especially vulnerable to the tricky and insidious nature of fake news, and what’s even worse? Those individuals are the top targets as well as the heaviest disseminators.

Before you get too comfortable up on your high horse, remember that we’re all susceptible to fake news. How many of us have clicked on a sensational headline at the bottom of a webpage or while scrolling through Facebook’s newsfeed just to see what all of the hub bub is about? We’re human beings – it’s in our nature to be curious. Articles that pique our interest in this way are known as “clickbait,” and while their headlines go viral quickly and may seem harmless (if not humorous), sometimes real lives are caught in the balance.

So, how can we escape the vicious cycle that is the fake “newsiverse” (2018’s word of the year, anyone? Oh, come on!)? As marketing, advertising and PR professionals, spotting and avoiding fake news is a necessary part of the job. The last thing you want to do is advise your retail client to offer free lotion tastings because The Onion said it’s trendy.

You’ll find a step-by-step guide, courtesy of the International Federation of Library Associates (IFLA), that depicts how to vet all news sources for accuracy and objectivity.

Have some of your own tips and experiences with fake news that you’d like to share? Tweet at us @DEVENEYMKTG or find us on Facebook here.

John Deveney, ABC, Fellow IABC, APR, Fellow PRSA
Founder – DEVENEY

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