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Content marketing is as much about curation as it is about creation. True thought leaders establish a voice of authority by reading content and sharing ideas, as well as curating their own original content. It’s safe to say that we live in the era of #FakeNews, with reasonably intelligent adults sharing erroneous, biased, or invalid information. The phenomenon has become so widespread, that schools are including news education in their curricula and classrooms.

Fake news has been a widespread issue long before the Cambridge Analytica fiasco exploded into the global spotlight. It has long posed a challenge to content marketers, who must work harder than ever to promote and create content that’s not only actionable, but truthful.

Fabricated stories, whether in part or altogether, are more than just annoying. If your company shares a fake news store, you could do serious damage to your brand and its voice. Having a thorough understanding of what makes fakes news, as well as how to spot a story, can help you avoid the pitfalls. A global research survey of people living in 28 countries found:

  • 70% of respondents said they were worried about fake news and its potential as a “weapon.”
  • 59% of respondents reported that they consistently didn’t know if what they see in the media is true.
  • Nearly 2/3rds reported that they didn’t think the average person could tell the difference between a quality story and a falsehood.

This poses a unique challenge for content marketers. On the one hand, content curation allows your business to share relevant information with your prospects and followers and creates brand authority. On the other hand, sharing content that’s not actually relevant – or true – can take a toll on your brand image. Even if you didn’t personally create it, visitors are going to associate you with the content you share. Accidently sharing fake news can impact your audience’s faith in you and might even turn them off of your brand.

A Marketer’s Guide to Spotting Fake News

Fake news is something of an umbrella term that encompasses anything that contains biased, erroneous, or irrelevant information. On the other hand, fake news isn’t really “news” at all – it’s usually propaganda or another form of content that encourages you to think or act in a certain way – and encourage others to do so, too. Unfortunately, people often equate viral content with truthful content. The more shares a piece of content has, the more truthful it may seem to the average user – which can be especially problematic for content curators. The New York Times provided a helpful analysis of how a fake news story achieves viral status, using the 2016 presidential election as a lens.

You have a responsibility to provide useful, truthful content to your readers. Before sharing a story or piece of content, no matter how enticing, do a quick fact-checking process to assess its validity.

1. Research the Story

One of the biggest mistakes that a content marketer can make is accepting what they see on social media as true and clicking the “share now” button. In some cases, stories might have a truthful basis, but have a spin in order to meet a particular agenda or end goal. Cornell University suggests a fact-checking process for identifying fake news:

  • What source does it come from? Does it appear to support a certain agenda or viewpoint?
  • Go beyond the headline. Many people don’t read beyond the headline – don’t be one of them. What does the actual content say?
  • Consider the author. Do a quick search of them on the net. Are they real? Do they seem credible?
  • Does the story have supporting sources or quality links?
  • Is it satire? The more outlandish the story, the more likely it is to be a joke.
  • Consider your own biases and how it might affect your judgment.
  • Fact check using a source like Snopes, the NPR fact checker, or Washington Post fact checker.

2. Examine the Images

Often the creator of a fake news stories will find authentic images and use them to support their own narrative. Examine the images closely, especially with regard to dates. A recent news story with images from 2007 could be a huge red flag.

3. Do A Quick Inventory Before Sharing

Before you share that seemingly perfect piece of content, ask yourself:

  • Is it relevant?
  • Will it provide helpful information to my readers?
  • Is it true, based on the criteria above?
  • Will it hold to scrutiny?

If you can answer yes to all the preceding questions, go ahead and share it.

Content marketers not only have a responsibility to create compelling content, but to share truthful and relevant content with their followers. By recognizing a fake news story, you can improve your brand’s authority and avoid sharing information that might be false or irrelevant.