The fake news phenomenon has taken on an unprecedented role in today’s society. We often hear the phrase thrown around amongst our politicians, on our news outlets, and occasionally from our next-door neighbor. But what exactly is fake news?
To put it simply, it’s false news, stories, and sometimes even images meant to elicit a strong emotional response to sway you one way or another. Additionally, labeling something as fake news is a tactic used to discredit factually correct information or news. And, unfortunately, fake news isn’t as harmless as you think. In fact, there is often malicious intent to what the creators and pushers of fake news do. Fake news is not solely used to pedal political agendas either but is often used to generate advertising revenue.
Fake news is as dangerous as it is powerful. Not only has it changed people’s opinions on important matters through misinformation, it can and has altered the financial markets, as well causing some people to disregard or no longer trust actual, legitimate news sources. This brings us to a very important question: what is a small business or brand to do about fake news?
Businesses must find ways to distance themselves from fake news as much as possible to help slow the spread of dangerous misinformation. Furthermore, combating fake news helps build value and trust in your company and helps keep your name out of hot water when consumers inevitably hold you responsible for spreading fake news.
Here are a few suggestions to help point you and your small business in the right direction to combat fake news:
Social Media’s Hidden Dangers
The first step in your efforts to combat fake news is to figure out where it’s most prevalent. As it stands today, social media is a major source of misinformation. And, unfortunately, large audiences are exposed to fake news through their social media, and sometimes, these audiences aren’t able to discern misinformation from fact.
According to those at Pew Research Center, approximately 70% of Americans use social media, with most users checking platforms such as Facebook or Instagram at least once a day. It’s also worth noting that it’s not just the younger generations using social media either. These days, 40% of older adults aged 65 and up are also spending time on these popular platforms. Moreover, social media use is widespread amongst various demographics including gender, race, income, and education level. What all of this information tells us is that there is a large population at risk of being exposed to fake news.
Promote Authenticity and Honesty
As a company, it’s important for your marketing efforts and other resources to stand out from fake news. You can do this by evaluating the reliability of your information through trusted news sources. And while you and your business may not be able to stop every social media user from clicking on or sharing a fake news story, you can still make a difference.
Making an active effort to not contribute more to the misinformation phenomenon can be avoiding:
- Clickbait: We now know that the clickbait method works, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we should be using it. Clickbait tends to cause a knee-jerk reaction — such as immediately hitting the share button — to an overly-sensationalized headline or image, leading people to share potentially false information. While it can be tempting to add a few decorative or hyperbolic words to your business’s social media posts to be more attention-grabbing, customers will be quick to notice your inability to deliver on those clickbaity promises. This can create a poor image of your brand, and people may even unfollow your page. Instead, try including an attention-grabbing photo of your business, employees, or your product with each post. The post will take up the right kind of space in people’s newsfeed without the use of clickbait.
- Propaganda: Propaganda can seem like an archaic marketing campaign, but it is very much alive and well today. Due to the confirmation bias effect, half-truths or misdirections are modern propaganda tactics used to spread fake news. Some examples include using partial information, taking quotes or images out of context, or using manipulative emotional appeal. Instead, make authenticity and honesty a top priority with your social media presence (and business). This can be a collab with fellow small businesses for an online giveaway or being as transparent as possible with your advertising efforts such as testimonial videos.
- Satire: Using satire on your business’s social media pages is a trickier aspect of fake news. While satire is certainly not meant to be taken seriously there are many online, including elected officials sometimes, who misinterpret the satirical post or article as fact. Take, for instance, the numerous times people have believed a fake news article published by the satirical site, The Onion. Clever satire is still a great tool that helps spread your brand’s name and online presence, and appeals to a wide range of audiences. However, it is essential when posting or sharing something satirical that you’ve made a point to clearly state the posts are satire. Give a disclaimer on the post, within the comments, and monitor the satirical post closely if possible. If that sounds like an impossibility, then it’s best to avoid using satire altogether.
While social media certainly helps connect businesses with customers in unique ways, it also comes with a lot of responsibility. Furthermore, if your company can establish an authentic, trustworthy presence online, you’re likely to gain and retain more customers. While tactics like clickbait or propaganda might garner you attention, they can be shallow and fleeting.
More Ways to Be Proactive Against Fake News
Beyond aligning your small business with reliable, trustworthy, and credible resources and practices, it’s also important to take an active role against fake news. You can do this in a variety of ways.
Recently, a study showed that people who are given time to deliberate over a fake news story are more likely to form beliefs based on accurate information as opposed to falling back on their partisan biases.
Help facilitate this deliberation by inviting experts to provide input or host discussions about how to identify fake news on your platforms. You can also provide and promote resources that help improve digital literacy among your customers. Working against fake news also entails showing support of investigative journalism, finding ways to reduce incentives for spreading fake news, and generally being more aware of your personal and unconscious biases that can affect how you interpret information online. Beyond personally finding ways to combat fake news, you can also extend these efforts from within your business itself.
In an article detailing how to identify fake news, the University of North Dakota also suggests expanding your digital scope to include more diverse voices and perspectives. We are naturally swayed towards messages, stories, and ideas that best suit our personal lives and opinions. With better diversity within your company, however, those biases intermingle with a wider range of experiences and beliefs which can expand your views and understanding. This makes it harder for fake news to slip through the cracks and helps your brand’s credibility. Plus, having a more diverse team has shown to positively affect businesses in several ways, beyond social media and online endeavors.
While the problem of fake news is certainly nothing new, we are living in a time where information, regardless if it is factually correct or not, can be rapidly and widely spread around the entire globe. As a small business or brand, interacting, supporting, and sharing with your community of customers authentically and responsibly protects vulnerable people as well as solidifies your commitment as a positive steward in the online world.
Beau Peters is a creative professional with a lifetime of experience in service and care. As a manager, he’s learned a slew of tricks of the trade that he enjoys sharing with others who have the same passion and dedication that he brings to his work.