Fake news and the social media trap

Fake news and the social media trap

‘Welcome to the Fake news show, the only show that you can trust’ ‘I’m Kirsty Allsopp’ – Stephen Mangan

This might appear funny as a new Channel 4 show but realistically, it shows a darker side to social media and the news that we consume.

Thinking about fake news, more often I find myself turning to social media. I spend a lot of time on Twitter. I follow SkyNews and BBC News for trusted updates throughout the day. But it has become such a norm for us to read news on or from social media. It is hard and sometimes even impossible to visit Facebook without seeing some sensationalist headline from a unknown news site. A headline that purely acts as clickbait, wanting us to visit the site. So how do we know which sites are real and which ones are faked?

And what even is fake news? It has become a term that covers any content ranging from made up content to propaganda. It isn’t new, but the issue comes from where it is shared. Fake news is being given a new dimension and a new meaning through being shared on social media. It is becoming wide spread leaving it hard to see which articles are true and which are not.

The new Channel 4 show ‘The Fake News Show’ just goes to show how fake news is becoming a issue for society. The show conducted a small experiment to see how easy it is to spread news. The most intersting experiment was Katherine Ryan’s tweet. The tweet said that she had got a ‘Brazilian Bum Lift’ or BBL which went wrong and would therefore have to cancel some of her shows. Within hours of posting, yes hours of posting, the tweet gained coverage on The Sun. Their story was ‘Comedian Katherine Ryan reveals shocking pictures of botched bum lift as she’s forced to cancel shows’. Not only The Sun, but The Express, The Daily Star, The List, Digital Spy, The Mirror and of course The Daily Mail all covered the story. Richard Osmon also conducted a similar experiment. His tweet was deleted after 10 minutes so didn’t get much attention. However, it appeared on many random sites and the BBC press office were inundated with media calls about Kanye West’s appearance on Pointless even after 10 minutes.

I think that it is amazing to see how quickly those two posts spread. If either two of those statements had been said out loud, they would have been unlikely to gain coverage. But the fact that they were posted upon social media means that hype was created and they spread quickly without a thought as to whether they were credible or not.

The news networks and sites we all use are treated as a credible source of news. But even so, many of us don’t even think about the site that we read an article on when finding the story from social media. We aren’t likely to check somewhere else to see whether it is true, we just press share and carry on scrolling. We don’t even consider the fact that it could be false. And that is where it becomes dangerous.

Fake news has the ability to change perceptions and opinions in huge events such as elections and wars. Somebody somewhere can write anything about a public figure and with the help of social media it can spread like wildfire before anyone has had a chance to consider how credible it is. Scary stuff.

Fake news is about making things up for clicks. It is deliberate. Lying. Lying is what politicians do. Fake news is specific and dangerous. There have been stories about high profile figures. Stories / claims that included Angela Merkel being Hitler’s daughter. It’s a genuine, terrifying thing that can have a huge effect on society.
– Richard Osmon

Fake news extends to PR. Social Media allows brand reputations to be ruined in an instant. It is more important, arguably more than ever to be aware of brand mentions and be able to keep track and potentially act upon false mentions. Clients need to be prepared for any fake news situation. We always see people complaining or talking about brands on social media. But any kind of story can be found and produced about the client and picked up by influential news networks. Just look at how quickly Katherine Ryan’s tweet was picked up. Fake news is costly to clients.

Social Media is gaining credibility fast. Facebook and Google have pledged to act against it but will they be able to stop the generation of fake news? Only time will tell. In the mean time, it is crucial that crisis comms are ready to go.


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