Preparation, transparency among keys to fighting fake news crises

December 2, 2019

Fight Fake News

By Nahyun Kim, Page Center graduate student

Fake news has become a real concern for corporations. When fake news about a company goes viral, it is recommended that the company actively engages in refuting the fabricated information to defend its reputation.

To help prepare rapid and effective corporate responses to fake news, a recent study, “Listening In: Fostering Influencer Relationships to Manage Fake News,” investigated how public relations practitioners monitor fake news, and how they can successfully engage with social media influencers to correct false narratives.

Kent State University researchers Michele E. Ewing, associate professor, and Cheryl Ann Lambert, assistant professor, interviewed 21 public relations practitioners from both corporations and agencies to find common themes and approaches. The interviewees had successfully managed fake news crises.

The results showed that PR practitioners “listen in,” or monitor online:

1) to have contingency plans for potential issues

2) to identify and build relationships with influencers before a crisis situation arises

3) to learn diverse perspectives about the issue.

The study also revealed that social media influencers can play an essential role in shaping the media narrative and successful engagement with social influencers includes:

1) building goodwill prior to a fake news crisis

2) inspiring advocacy for an organization

3) being responsive and transparent in social conversations

4) integrating media relations and social media strategies to build credibility.

Ewing that “Participants identified the substantial role that listening plays within the broader function of social media monitoring…and yet they clearly recognize that truly listening involves continuous engagement with key stakeholders to aid in the listening process.”

Interestingly, it was found that human involvement was still a critical factor in the overall monitoring process on social media; human intelligence is critical to complement the technologies for social media monitoring to encompass both quantitative and qualitative assessments of the online environment. And undoubtedly, building favorable relationships with key stakeholders, such as social media influencers, needs to involve human interactions.

“One of the results that was surprising was how essential human involvement remains for adequate social media monitoring,” Lambert said. “We found that ‘corporate communicators hold industry knowledge that cannot be replicated by a machine’—as well as engaging with social media influencers.” 

The researchers acknowledged that fake news is an ongoing problem that doesn’t seem to be abating. Various efforts in both academia and industries are creating strategies to effectively respond to fake news; such efforts help build the basis for sound public opinion and society. The researchers encourage further studies.

“As technology continues to evolve, we can expect more fake news and misinformation challenges,” Ewing said. “Public relations researchers and practitioners must continue to collaborate to strive for truthful and transparent communication,”

The researchers encourage further studies focused on fake news, disinformation and misinformation in the field of public relations. Pointing out the dearth of research regarding fake news in public relations. Lambert added, “We hope these findings inspire public relations practitioners to invest time and resources to conduct online listening and build relationships with online influencers to minimize and manage fake news.”

The study was funded by a 2018 Page Center Page/Johnson Scholar Grant and published in a special issue of “PR Journal.”