Quarterbacking Strategy in a Field of Fake News


Pop Quiz: Can you spot the one real news item from the following? The answer can be found at the bottom of this post:

  • In July, Pope Francis endorsed the Republican candidate for the U.S. presidency.
  • In August, a prominent news anchor was fired from Fox News.
  • In October, Bob Dylan won the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature.

As Facebook and Google increasingly become the jumping off point for news consumption, the rise of fake news is something that has consumers of information concerned, and digital experts and members of the media are scrambling to figure out how to combat it. Tech giants Facebook and Google have recently acknowledged that some fake news items are easier to spot than others, so they are taking aim at sites regularly generating fake content. For many, this action can’t begin soon enough – after all, 62% of U.S. adults get their news on social media and 18% claim to do so often, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. As many as 66% of Facebook users and 59% of Twitter users get their news on these sites.

It makes sense that people would look to social media platforms for their news – with trust and confidence in American institutions including traditional media outlets at an all-time low, social channels, by virtue of people’s networks largely being comprised of those that share their own beliefs, provide a curated news feed which often validates readers’ opinions about the current state of the world (who doesn’t like the feeling of being right?).

As communications professionals, how do we ensure we’re not a part of the problem while advancing our clients’ causes – or causing our clients problems by relying on misinformation from an increasingly crowded digital space? The short answer: we must do our homework.

The push for truth and advocating for clients’ causes is not mutually exclusive – though it does require vigilance when reviewing and developing statements, researching issues and engaging in rapid response to help clients emerge stronger from potential crises or take advantage of new opportunities.

It’s critical to be factual and to source reputable outlets when commenting publicly. In the super-fast world of social media engagement – communicators must also be careful with news items or accounts with which they choose to engage. Favorable news clips or blog posts that benefit your narrative may seem like a no-brainer to share, but it is important to take a moment to consider whether the source of that information is trustworthy.

Spotting fake news is not as easy as it seems – especially with Google’s algorithm previously putting false stories in the “news” section at the top of search results at times. Something they’re no longer doing.

The Washington Post has some ideas on how people like you and me can spot the fakers, including:

  • Check the URL for signs of inauthenticity (Example: The ABC News web page is actually abcnews.go.com and NOT abcnews.com.co which includes the URL country code for Columbia .co);
  • Consider the accompanying image with the news piece and whether it has been photo-shopped;
  • Check whether other outlets have covered the story. If it’s a real news item – at least a couple of other media outlets are likely to also report on the story; and
  • Consider installing a browser plug-in to help you identify fake news (FiB: Stop living a lie is one option cited by the Post and Business Insider).

Double-check, or rather, triple check the news you share with your audiences.

Now returning to our “quiz” at the top of this post – Bob Dylan actually did win a Nobel Peace Prize, and the news coverage of him not being reachable for presentation of the award? Also true.