Fake news seems to be everywhere but as content creators we have the power and responsibility to tackle it head on.
Studies have found that on Twitter, a false story will reach 1,500 people 6 times quicker than a true story. False stories were 70 percent more likely to earn a retweet than verified news. The feeling of novelty, disgust or surprise that fake news evoke is the perfect recipe for internet virality.
The popularity and profitability of fake stories has led some to throw facts and accuracy out of the window in favour of speed and guaranteed clicks. This had led the UK Parliament to suggest that “the very fabric of our democracy is threatened” by inaccurate reporting which reinforces certain ill-informed views and reduces the common ground for reasonable debate.
A recent Cision Report found that 71% of journalists think the public have lost trust in journalism. Perhaps as a reflection of this and the rising tide of fake news, 75% of journalists also asserted that 100% accuracy is more important than being first to a story.
As content creators and PR professionals, we must recognise our role in the news landscape and our responsibility to provide factually accurate and verified information. Here are my tips for doing just that:
When producing a piece of content, do everything in your power to make sure it is factually accurate. Collect your data from multiple, official sources and reference them clearly. Wherever possible, corroborate claims with multiple sources or testimonies.
For example, in this recent maternity pay article for John Charcol, we combined government statistics with Child Poverty Action Group research, a Freedom of Information request and a survey of UK mothers to present a robust and verifiable story.
Pass your work over to your resident sceptic and ask them to poke holes in it. Your fact checker should ideally be separate from the project and tasked with double checking every claim and statistic.
If you’re writing a specialist piece for the health sector for example, your content should be written by one expert and fact checked by another. Healthline do this consistently well on their blog:
If possible, include the qualifications of authors. As a content creator, you need to prove why readers should value and respect the information you publish. For example, Huffington Post often list the credentials of authors alongside the article title which helps readers gauge reliability.
When using statistics, calculations and other data, make your methodology clear and easy to follow. That way readers and journalists looking to quote your work can easily fact check your claims.
For example, this calculator which helps UK residents weigh up the cost of a booze cruise to Calais required several data sources and calculations, so we listed our methodology for journalists to refer to.
If you have done your research and know your audience, you can create content that is good enough without resorting to fake news. We’ve found that some of the best content follows the ‘three Es’ benchmark: emotive, educational and engaging. If you focus on using your expertise and unique insight to serve your target audience those three Es, there will be no need to rely on overly-hyped fake news.
When you find a story online, always check if it has basis in fact. Check if other reputable news sites have covered it and question the facts as they are laid out. If it mentions a report, look that up to read it for yourself. As mentioned earlier, fake news stories prey on emotions which the creator knows will shock or disgust you and make you want to share it. Always triple check before giving in to those temptations.
As a content creator, you must have a set of values and sticking to them is crucial. At Builtvisible, one of our guiding principles is that we always act in the best interests of our clients. Creating poorly researched, misinformed content is clearly not in their best interests nor that of their audience so that value guides our decision making and fact checking process.
The news industry will most likely continue to struggle with its demons. Misinformation, disinformation, personal biases and the tidal wave of technology means the challenge to re-gain trust is a tough one. Artificial Intelligence should be of particular concern as it has the ability to facilitate the creation and spread of fake news en masse.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. While trust in the media fell to an all-time low in 2016, it has for the first time in a long while increased two years in a row. The New York Times in the US has proved a positive case study as a traditional news publication embracing digital; they have a growing digital subscription readership which reflects the public’s appreciation for detailed, well-researched news content.
Awareness of and the backlash against false information in the news is growing. We must all promote continued investment in digital education programs, individual vigilance and a commitment to ethical, reliable and robust content creation. These efforts will make it much easier to navigate the dark arts of fake news in the future.
Speak to our content consultants for more tips on how to build ethical content processes into your own content production.