Businesses and celebrities have been under growing attack from websites that publish fake news. Every day, unscrupulous characters publish hundreds of made-up stories online about companies and celebrities to gain a financial advantage, sway opinion or cause damage. Companies, non-profit institutions and celebrities never know when a fake news story might accuse them of criminal, immoral or bizarre behavior. More than 2,000 identified online news sources publish false, outlandish, extremist, extremely slanted or satiric information each day. Most fake news stories that appear on social media originate from those fake news sites.
Examples of Businesses Targeted by Fake News Sites
These are just a few examples of businesses featured in fake news sites:
A fake news site reported that Dollar General was closing all stores. The story was widely distributed on social media with over 75,000 shares on Facebook.
A false story claimed Pepsi CEO Indra Noori told Trump supporters to “take their business elsewhere.” Another fictitious story reported that a Pepsi worker injected HIV-infected blood into Pepsi products.
A website published articles falsely claiming that an Indian restaurant in the U.K, KarriTwist, was selling human meat and its owner was arrested. The restaurant saw sales drop by half.
A satirical website tricked readers into believing that the Walt Disney Company plans to open a new theme park in a small city in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
One fake news story can produce enormous damage to a corporate or personal reputation, especially if it goes viral on social media. It’s essential for businesses to monitor those fake news sites to defend themselves from their attacks.
PR and crisis communications experts typically recommend companies use media monitoring to protect their reputations. “From a monitoring perspective, companies would be well served to identify fake news as early as possible,” writes corporate communications expert Shel Holtz in his Holtz Communication + Technology blog. “That means tweaking existing monitoring services to watch for fake news. It also means keeping an eye on the sites that are known to produce it. With all the news about fake news, the worst thing to do is nothing.”
When considering a media monitoring service it’s critical to select one that delivers timely email alerts when a potentially image-damaging story in a fake news site mentions the company’s name or other selected keywords. With a swift alert, the company or its PR agency can promptly rebut fake news reports.
The monitoring service should also be able to add specific fake news sites which clients want to monitor.
Types of Fake News Sites
The cast of disreputable characters who intentionally publish fake news include anti-corporate activists, stock short sellers, disgruntled customers, political or social radicals, hate-mongers, hired hands of competitors, and even unethical publicity agents. Some fake news sites espouse extreme political views. Others publish fake news to attract website traffic and gain advertising income. Still others create satirical articles that can be misinterpreted as fact and cause the same problems as fake news. Some fake stories are outlandish; others are quite believable. The fake news sites often mimic the appearance of legitimate mainstream publishers.
The spread of fake news has damaged trust in American corporations. Trust in companies headquartered in the U.S. dropped from 55 to 50 percent from the previous year, according to the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer. “Persistent references to fake news, linked to headlines around foreign government election manipulation have, unsurprisingly, had a cumulative, deep effect on the public. The inability to stem the perceived surge in disinformation has proven toxic,” say Lisa Ross, Edelman president, and Stephen Kehoe, Edelman global chair, reputation.
Why Fake News Poses a Problem
Research has shown that fake news, also called false news, spreads faster and to more people than real news articles. Untruthful news is 70 percent more likely to be retweeted on Twitter than true news, according to researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. False news or misinformation spreads because it’s more novel than true news, and people are more likely to share novel information, the researchers conclude.
“Concern over the problem is global. However, much remains unknown regarding the vulnerabilities of individuals, institutions, and society to manipulations by malicious actors. A new system of safeguards is needed,” a group of 16 political scientists and legal scholars wrote in Science.
Many concerned academics and business leaders have attempted to limit fake news reports, but the problem has turned out to be more complicated than some may have first thought. One issue is a wide range of different types of misinformation that may call for different responses. Solutions don’t seem imminent. The only available solution for businesses, nonprofits and celebrities is to remain on guard and monitor fake news websites.
Steps to Combatting Fake News & Other Misinformation
In addition to monitoring fake news websites, PR and crisis management experts recommend that organizations:
- Include fake news in crisis management plans. Review responsibilities, content and workflow. Scenario plan for a fake news attack.
- Immediately issue press statements and social media posts to deny false news about the brand.
- Seek a takedown of the original story but realize that legal action may have little impact.
- Consider paid media to counter misinformation.
- Work with brand advocates and ambassadors to correct misinformation.
- Do not republish attacks. Instead share positive content that counters fake news.
- Recognize the difference between fake news and satire. Any response to satire should be appropriate.
Bottom Line: Businesses remain vulnerable to false news attacks. Thousands of fake news websites publish often-damaging fictional stories about companies, non-profit organizations, and celebrities. They can protect themselves with a service that monitors fake news sites and reports when any article contains a key word the client specifies.