Let’s talk about FAKE NEWS

Let’s talk about FAKE NEWS

Propaganda, manipulation, influence, rumours have always existed. But, thanks partly to activities across the Atlantic, we now have a new name for them… FAKE NEWS!

By definition, fake news is deliberately false or rigged information spread through digital or social media. It is notably in the aftermath of Brexit and during the American and French presidential campaigns of 2016-2017 that the expression “Fake News” exploded as these three political campaigns were subjected to the dissemination of false information on social networks, created with the aim of influencing voter behaviour.

When we know that two-thirds of American adults get their information via social networks and that, in France, one-third of social media users surveyed think that some fake news is true, it becomes an issue.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a resurgence of fake news with disastrous consequences. Sometimes far-fetched, often misleading, this false news swarmed on the internet during the containment. The internet and the rise of social networks have accentuated this phenomenon of misinformation by radically changing the traditional information circuit.

How is this happening?

  1. By creating interdependence between media, social networks and search engines, we no longer access information directly through a media (TV, radio or newspaper) but we often use an intermediary such as: Facebook, Twitter, Google, YouTube etc…
  2. By allowing everyone to become a media outlet, there is no monopoly anymore on the crafting of “news”. What was restricted to journalists is now an open bar.

Sure, solutions have been put in place. “Fact-checking” is broadcasted as the new Eldorado but when it was used before, it led to more scrutiny and scepticism from the general public.

When two institutions such as the AFP and Le Monde feel the need to create fact-checking departments (the MediaLab and Decodex), it is both a commendable effort and a self-inflicted injury. Isn’t that at the core of what a media does? Isn’t fact-checking an absolute part of the job?

In 2019, the French government adopted an “anti-fake news” law and most social networks followed suit. Facebook, Google and Twitter, Mozilla, as well as advertisers and representatives of the advertising industry have signed a code of good practice against misinformation with the European Commission.

Too little too late?

And what about our industry? Aren’t PR agencies, along with news agencies, social networks and search engines, key players in the information economy?

Sending hundreds/thousands of press releases per day, PR agencies overwhelm journalists with content which is both an essential link in the information chain between companies and media but also very often unverified and biased.

As a key player in the media cycle, we have a duty of transparency and an obligation of being a reliable and trusted source of content just as much as these players. Often under fire from critics or even openly condemned, the press and journalists must be able to trust agencies to provide them with verified and balanced content.

What concrete solutions can we put in place beyond a simple code of good practice against disinformation, which is certainly helpful but still too ineffective for us as information professionals? Providing verified, traced information is nowadays the duty of communication agencies. In order to protect clients or to facilitate the work of journalists, agencies must strengthen the systems they put in place to control and monitor information. In addition to the necessary adherence to a code of good conduct and raising the awareness of our ecosystem to the issue of fake news, the use of new technologies such as the blockchain is an option to be carefully considered.

There are solutions out there to certify the flow of information we send. It’s time agencies go beyond simply adhering to a code of good practices and create a label of controlled information which will be a warrant of trust. Otherwise, we will forever be associated with the “fake news” stamp of infamy.