One of the byproducts of the nasty 2016 Election is the explosion of so-called ‘fake news’ — false information that is presented as fact by websites that appear to be authored by journalists but are instead authored by those looking to deceive (or in some cases create satire).
Fake news isn’t actually new.
Phony sites and shoddy reporters have been pumping out false information for a long time — so much so that fact checking sites like Snopes.com and FactCheck.org have been patrolling the Internet for years to debunk fake information.
But fake news exploded in 2016 during the Presidential campaign, when phony stories with wild headlines about the two candidates dominated our Facebook feeds and led many Internet users astray.
Since the election, a number of companies have also been caught up in controversies that were based on false information spread online.
According to PR Week, Pepsi had to deal with a potential boycott from Trump supporters after fake news stories erroneously quoted its CEO saying that Trump supporters should “take their business elsewhere.”
The shoe company New Balance, meanwhile, faced its own controversy from anti-Trump supporters, after a fake quote attributed to an executive stated that New Balance is the “official brand of the Trump revolution.”
It’s easy to see how nonprofits can get caught up in the fake news trap.
It wouldn’t take much for a liberal-leaning charity to get caught in the crosshairs of a controversy drummed up by a conservative fake-news outlet — or for a left-leaning site to make up salacious stories about the leader of a religious charity.
What should you do if this happens to your organization?
Here are three strategies you should follow:
1. Debunk it Quickly
It’s important to put out a statement to your supporters and others that the story is fake. Provide as much information as you can — providing details about the credibility of the news source and the author and sharing any information you can about your organization that counters the claim.
Speed is important here. As Winston Churchill once said, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”
Get your pants on quickly — and don’t be afraid to say that the fake news source’s own pants are on fire for its lie.
2. Put Out Positive Messages
PR Week says New Balance was able to contain some of the damage surrounding its fake news controversy by putting out a number of messages about what its brand stands for and its history. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn and let the world know what you stand for as much as possible.
3. Avoid the Trolls
In addition to acting quickly and putting out positive messages, it’s important to avoid getting into a back and forth with Internet and social-media commenters who are trying to make you look bad by insulting you and twisting your words. Your best bet in these situations is to ignore — and, if possible — to block them.
Doing Your Part
Finally, even if your organization isn’t the victim of a fake news controversy, you can do your part in tamping down fake news by being careful about the information you share through your social networks and website.
While it might be tempting to quickly retweet something that might be damaging to an organization or person with different views, make sure that the information is credible before sharing it.
If it comes from a site you don’t recognize, check out the source to make sure it’s legit before putting it out under your organization’s brand.
While you should be quick to debunk fake information, you shouldn’t be quick to share it.
How has fake news impacted your organization or public opinion of your issues? Let us know in the comment section.