Fake news isn’t just for political campaigns anymore.
That became clear this past Sunday when a man fired a rifle in the Washington, DC-area pizzeria Comet Ping Pong. The suspect, twenty-eight year old Edgar Welch, told police he was there to “self-investigate” a false conspiracy he’d read online that the restaurant was at the center of “Pizzagate.”
Comet Ping Pong, according to the conspiracy, was a front for a child trafficking ring run by Bill and Hillary Clinton and Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta. The New York Times reported that:
The misinformation campaign about Comet began when the email account of John D. Podesta, an aide to Hillary Clinton, was hacked and his emails were published by WikiLeaks during the presidential campaign. Days before the election, users on the online message board 4chan noticed that one of Mr. Podesta’s leaked emails contained communications with James Alefantis, Comet’s owner, discussing a fund-raiser for Mrs. Clinton.
Now, other pizzerias are being accused of being in on the conspiracy. Brooklyn pizzeria Roberta’s has received threatening phone calls referencing Pizzagate, reports DNA Info.
If restaurants can become embroiled in fake news stories, any company or brand can.
The question then becomes: How do you handle such a situation? Here are four things to think about.
[Tweet “The Fake News Fallout #FakeNews”]
1) Understand How Fake News Occurs
Fake news is usually ideologically- or agenda-driven.
In the case of Pizzagate, the purpose was obviously to smear Hillary Clinton during her presidential campaign. Comet Ping Pong was a convenient detail to embellish the conspiracy story and suffered collateral damage, as a result. The Washington Post has a detailed rundown of how this particular fake news story spread.
The fake stories get shared on social media sites either intentionally by those with an agenda who know the stories to be false, by the gullible who believe them, by people who do not believe them but think they are funny, or by those who attempt to refute the false stories.
All of that online engagement with a fake news story has the effect of creating signals that tend to increase the visibility of those stories within social media channels. The algorithms for the Facebook and Twitter newsfeeds promote stories that a lot of people share and comment on. Thus, fake news stories start trending and an ever-widening circle of people discover them.
It is this role the social networks have played in disseminating and spreading fake news for which they’ve been criticized.
The purveyors of fake news understand and hijack the social network’s algorithms by prompting the signals those algorithms pay attention to.
2) Build A Loyal Online Audience
One way brands or businesses can inoculate themselves against the threat of fake news is by cultivating a loyal following online. By building a close relationship with your customers, partners, and allies within the major social channels, you’ll be more likely to have a foundation of people ready and willing to defend you in the event you get smeared by a fake news story.
3) Include Fake News Scenarios In Your Crisis Communications Plan
Brainstorm which groups or audiences would be most likely to conduct a fake news campaign against you.
It is now entirely plausible that we will see fake news campaigns carried out by activists for a particular cause against brands in specific industries, or companies planning plant closures, for example.
4) Use Social Listening For Mentions On Fake News Sites
One way you may be able to get an early warning red flag is to use social listening tools to monitor fake news sites for mentions of your brand, company, products or high-profile personnel.
This should actually be a service that social listening tools provide because most of their customers are not necessarily going to know which sites to monitor. By providing a constantly updated segment of fake news sites, customers could simply enter the keywords they want to monitor and get alerts whenever they get a hit.
Who would’ve imagined fake news would be a public relations issue? But that’s where we are at. As Hunter S. Thompson might have said: When the going gets tough, the weird turn pro.
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