Creating a plan to combat fake news

By Brittani Wilson / Guest Column

“Obama Signs Executive Order Banning the Pledge of Allegiance”

“Trump Offering Free One-Way Ticket to Africa & Mexico for Those Who Want to Leave America”

“Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President”

These are just three of the top-performing fake news headlines that were published in 2016. Some of these stories had more than 1 million engagements on Facebook leading up to the presidential election in November.

An analysis by BuzzFeed that came out in November reported that the top 20 fake news stories surrounding the election were shared 1.4 million times more than the top 20 real news stories about the election on Facebook. After a few weeks of pressure, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that the social media site would partner with journalism outlets like ABC News and Snopes to help flag fake news.

Despite some of these features that rolled out last month, fake news will always be around. It’s up to individual companies and public relations professionals to help mitigate the impact if your organization is under fire. Here are some tips.

Detect the fake news before competitors. The first step in combatting fake information about your organization is to find it before your competitors can take and spin it. Have a 24/7 monitoring approach for mentions of your organization. Setting up Google Alerts is a simple yet effective tool, as well as IFTT and TalkWalker.

Be transparent. When communicating news from your organization, give straightforward and accurate information to media outlets. Even if you don’t have details or specifics, inform people you are aware of the situation and that you’re responding to inaccurate information. Silence helps nobody. False stories can lead to significant damage, so getting out in front of the story should always be the goal of your organization’s crisis communicator.

Respond to fake news. Has your company been under attack with fake news surrounding your organization? While we want to get those stories removed, in today’s digital world, it will be nearly impossible to get the story eliminated. You need to give a rebuttal with accurate information as quickly as possible. Just saying “no, that’s false information” isn’t enough in this era. Your organization needs to be able to say “no, that’s wrong, and here’s why.”

Amplify your rebuttal. Respond to the fake news not only through mainstream media outlets, but also through digital advertisements to help boost and amplify the truth. Call upon your organization’s influencers. Use their loyalty to help post your positive news on their social media outlets and keep up with engagement on those who have done so.

Set a cut-off point for counter claims. While you need to respond and create a rebuttal to false information, it’s just as important to know when to stop engaging. McDonald’s learned this lesson when a series of fake stories spread online that it was using worms as filler in its burgers. After rebutting a few times, the organization stopped responding and let the story run out of steam. Eventually, the story was found to be false. If your organization is under attack, create a rebuttal, but set a cut-off point for making further counter claims.

Fake news is everywhere, and it’s not going away anytime soon. While there’s no way to anticipate your company becoming a target of a false news story, organizations must have a plan in place to combat an attack.

By having a plan in place, you increase the chances of getting through the crisis with minimal damage. The most important thing to remember is to create a rebuttal and share the news in a simple and straightforward way that can be easy to share.

Brittani Wilson is director of public relations for Plaid Swan Inc., based both in Cedar Rapids and Dubuque.