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How We Can Fend Off Fake News

Fake news accusations mess with the public's trust in mainstream media.

07/27/2017 09:46 EDT | Updated 07/27/2017 09:46 EDT
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Fake news accusations mess with the public's trust in mainstream media.

There is so much of it. I believe it is causing a pivotal shift in how news and social media consumers trust the user-generated content.

My evidence is hardly scientific, mostly anecdotal but motivated by media trends I see playing out across communications channels in Canada and the U.S.

Most intelligent social media users want to believe in the stories they view on their smartphone news feeds, but repeated narratives of alternative facts, only pile on the shaming culture social media is known to perpetuate.

The Guardian newspaper, reports that an alliance of media outlets in Canada and the U.S. are fighting back. The post states that the News Media Alliance is pressuring U.S. Congress for the right to negotiate jointly with the two big online players and fight false news online.

I try my best to validate sources myself, but the repeated fake news mantra forces me to "triple-check" all story sources before I share or retweet or risk getting caught in a vortex of social media disgrace.

I discovered one helpful tool worth passing along. It's a great made-in-Canada solution straight out of the University of Western Ontario (UWO) called the Satire Detector. The detector, brainchild of UWO's Language and Information Technology Lab, was created to sniff out satire online using an algorithm, with the long-term goal of finding ways to identify other types of deception.

Posting alternative facts and content to dupe audiences is now "big business," and the false scribes behind the screen reap the payout from click bait ad dollars.

You can get the full report here, but the UWO research directly identifies the following five types of fake news to watch out for:

1) Intentionally deceptive;

2) jokes taken at face value;

3) large scale hoaxes;

4) slanted reporting of real facts or spinning; and,

5) stories where the 'truth' is contentious such as ideological clashes.

Many categories, but no wonder, considering how easy it is to set up a new blog or digital entry on the internet. Posting alternative facts and content to dupe audiences is now "big business," and the false scribes behind the screen reap the payout from click bait ad dollars.

While the growth in online riff-raff is worrisome, I believe it is an opportunity for credible and trusted brands and influencers to re-establish trust.

Here are three must haves for any strategic communications strategy to ensure your brand or message does not get debased by the periphery of fake news disruptors:

1) People care about things that affect them so create meaningful branded content that reflects those feelings. Know your audience.

2) Stories should be compelling and conversational. Corporate or layered policy jargon is difficult to understand. Keep it simple. A trusted, public affairs campaign will have more success if people are chatting about it.

3) Keep building your digital presence, but a robust communications strategy must still include TV. As we learned from the Canadian Upfronts recently, according to Media in Canada, advertisers are coming back to TV because it remains the most authoritative and trusted medium. Your stakeholders watch the same TVs and tablets you do so why not reach them where they are.

My advice for consumers is to trust the brands, public influencers and publications that reflect your information values. Remember the proverb; you are the company you keep.

The fragmented media universe can appear like a digital chaos to avoid, but the confusing debates over what is fact versus fiction should instead present strategic opportunities for individuals and big brands to be bold and showcase authentic brand value to consumer and stakeholders.

Darryl Konynenbelt is a strategic communications advisor for the C-suite working in Toronto.

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