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How to stop fake news from ruining your business

Tom Chapman
Tom
A publishing specialist skilled in getting clients noticed, Tom has been featured by several marketing publications and even by the BBC. He is always happy to discuss the future of marketing and journalism to anyone with questions.

November 26, 2018

9 minute read

Woman looking at a phone with ‘fake news’ on it.
‘Fake news’ is not just something the president of the United States exclaims on a regular basis, it’s a huge societal issue and something which has the potential to ruin real lives.

According to Wikipedia, fake news is “a type of yellow journalism or propaganda that consists of deliberate disinformation or hoaxes spread via traditional print and broadcast news media or online social media.

However, we would argue this definition is out-of-date. Instead, the definition of fake news should be similar to: “deliberate lies or misinformation primarily spread over social media networks with the intention of causing harm or damage to organisations.”

Despite containing false information, fake news causes very real problems. For example, in 2013, the Associated Press’ (AP) Twitter account was hacked – publishing a tweet confirming two explosions in the White House which injured then President Obama. In a matter of minutes, the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped by more than 143 points while in excess of $130billion of stock value was wiped out.

Fortunately, the stock market recovered quickly but using fake news to influence stock prices is just one way your business can be damaged. For example, in 2015, the Securities and Exchange Commission froze profits from a fake news scam with the intention of positively manipulating Avon stock.

While a boost in stock value may sound positive, the long-term implications, public trust, and often resulting share dips, are not. Sadly, this is not the only way fake news can impact your business:

How fake news affects businesses

Fake reviews

When shopping online, customer reviews influence just about every aspect of the buying decision. Unfortunately, unethical companies will sometimes buy fake reviews in order to tilt the odds in their favour or smear the competition. In one such example, a family-owned jeweller in Boston claimed a rival company had purchased 100 one-star reviews to topple their positive Facebook review score. In minutes, their 4.8 rating dropped to 2.3.

Far from being a figure without consequence, the Competition and Markets Authority estimates that, in the UK, online reviews have the potential to influence around £23billion worth of customer spending every year. As a result, negatively influencing the ratings of a company can almost certainty affect the minds of consumers.

Although loyal customers stayed with the Boston jewellery brand, we can only speculate as to how much damage multiple low-scoring reviews caused the organisation.

 

Negative rumours

Although we have seen how fake news can be used to boost stock prices, malicious individuals use rumours to achieve the opposite. For example, in 2017, a post claimed the CEO of cryptocurrency company Ethereum had died in a car accident. As a result, this wiped about $4 billion off the organisation’s stock value while some analysts began speculating over the future of the now leaderless company.

The CEO himself had to confirm that he was still alive.

Similarly, a post on Reddit this year reported the death of a McDonald’s executive in compromising circumstances. Although the company was quick to act – and confirmed the executive didn’t actually exist – it still impacted the company’s stock value by around $2billion.

Although both organisations recovered from these attacks, it still demonstrates just how quickly a lie can cause real damage.

 

Fake offers

Internet trolls created a fake promotion for coffee giant Starbucks in 2017. Claiming that undocumented immigrants in the United States could receive a 40% discount code, the perpetrators seemed to be targeting the company for it’s views on Donald Trump’s travel ban. Although the organisation stepped in, and confirmed the deal did not exist, the consequences could have severely disrupted branches at a local level.

For example, staff could have been overwhelmed by the number of individuals seeking to claim discounted drinks while law enforcement might have used the opportunity to shut down locations to detain illegal immigrants.

From the customer point of view, the additional demand could have caused excessive queuing times and infuriated those seeking their usual orders. In turn, this would have likely resulted in customer complaints – further delaying individuals from completing their purchases.

Therefore, it is fortunate that Starbucks had the wisdom to monitor this potential threat and quickly resolve it.

Magnifying glass showing fake in news

Fake job adverts

Fake job adverts are unfortunately something which has plagued the recruitment industry for years. Although arguably unethical, these are used by some employers as a means to collect CVs, assess the job market, or collect email addresses.

While this is very disappointing for the candidate, a new version of the scam appeared in Shoreham which adversely affected firms in the region.

Career portal Indeed uses an app called ‘Job Spotter‘. This allows individuals to take photos of vacancies and send them to the company in exchange for gift cards. Attempting to game the system, malicious individuals were using fake job vacancy signs to claim rewards. However, this left business owners with the fallout of having to deal with phone calls from those seeking work. As well as having to deal with disgruntled job seekers, this consumed valuable time which business owners could have used elsewhere.

Can you spot fake news?

One of the examples detailed here is actually fake news but it can be easily disproved with a quick investigation. If you want to make a guess as to which one it could be, stop reading now and review the information above before continuing.

The fake news example was actually the McDonald’s case which never happened – although it is very similar to a false claim in 2009 that the CEO of AT&T died in his mansion following a cocaine overdose.

Sadly, we are living in the ‘post-truth’ era and now information we receive must be carefully self-vetted before taken as fact. Knee-jerk reactions, such as selling stock, should also be discouraged until more information is available. To spot fake news, you may wish to:

  • Consider where you get your news from. Focus on trustworthy mainstream websites such as the BBC
  • Search for sources and double check. Websites which link to original sources are generally more trustworthy than those which don’t. Furthermore, when it’s been covered once, search for the same story on another trustworthy website.
  • Investigate if the news has a purpose. For example, if a right-wing blog writes a news story about a left-leaning politician, it’s often in that organisation’s agenda to smear that individual.
  • Never just read the headline. Instead, read the whole article to understand what is happening.
  • Double check data sources. For example, if the survey or research being quoted is from a questionable company with an agenda, it probably can’t be trusted.

 

How to protect your business from fake news

If your business is targeted by fake news, regardless of what strategies you implement, you might still permanently lose some customers. If an individual adamantly believes something, little can dislodge that opinion. For example, we need only look at the anti-vaccination movement or climate change deniers to recognise just how fruitless it is trying to change their beliefs. Despite multiple studies to the contrary, their views stay the same.

Potentially, if targeted by fake news, your customer base might also struggle to regain trust in your brand. Fortunately, there are several ways you can combat false information:

  • Plan for every conceivable situation. Planning for a fake news attack is similar to preparing for a media disaster. Prepare for every conceivable situation, draft responses, and appoint someone media-trained as a spokesperson. Furthermore, it can’t hurt to run occasional ‘fake news drills’. If resources don’t permit this, just thinking about what to do in the event of a fake news attack and creating a basic plan is better than doing nothing.
  • Ensure your security is up-to-scratch. Fake news can be easily spread through official channels if these become compromised – similar to how AP’s Twitter account was used to spread false news of a White House explosion. Therefore, ensure your official channels and websites are as secure as possible.
  • Foster a culture of trust. Tackling fake news is easier if you remember the story of ‘the boy who cried wolf’. If you foster a culture of honesty and readability, you’ll be a better position to convince others that the fake news is false. In contrast, if you routinely engage in fake news yourself – such as embellishing offers – it will be much harder to convince customers you’re telling the truth.
  • Monitor mentions of your company. When tackling fake news, every minute counts. Therefore, it’s wise to monitor mentions of your company to determine who is talking about your firm. We would recommend Talkwalker for this.
  • Carefully deconstruct the lies. Instead of denying the allegations, explain why the information is false in a calm authoritative manner. This approach, instead of angrily crying ‘fake news’ is a far better way to resolve the situation.
  • Monitor for additional mentions of the fake news. It often takes far more than 24 hours to combat fake news. It’s a long battle and the rumours may still circulate months after the event. Therefore, identify organisations which have published the lie and request they publish a retraction.
  • Seek legal advice. In the event the fake news causes deliberate or negligent damage, you might be within your rights to take legal action. Consequently, legal advice should be sought as soon as possible.

 

Fake news can be damaging to a business but it doesn’t have to be. To speak to our specialist team regarding recovering from a fake news attack, or to discuss protecting your company against malicious interference, get in touch through the contact form or call 0161 956 8963.

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