Fake news has become a treacherous sinkhole in the online landscape and a threat to small and large businesses as well as well-known individuals. More than 2,000 websites intentionally make up news or publish outlandish stories and disguise them as factual news. These stories fool millions, with the misinformation that can cause serious problems.
Businesses, nonprofit organizations, entertainers, athletes, politicians and other well-known people never know when a fake news story might accuse them of criminal, immoral or bizarre behavior. One fake news story can significantly damage a reputation and brand image, especially if it goes viral on social media.
Fake news publishers include anti-corporate activists, stock short sellers, disgruntled customers, political or social radicals, hate-mongers, hired hands of competitors, and even unethical publicity agents.
The motivations of fake news publishers vary: some seek more website traffic to generate advertising income; others create satirical articles that can be misinterpreted as fact, which cause the same problems as fake news. Some fake stories are outlandish; others are believable. The fake news sites often mimic the appearance of legitimate mainstream publishers. These publishers of fake news sometimes create stories that are so convincing they trick traditional media outlets into running the phony claims.
How fake news sites spread misinformation
While fake news spreads on social media, most false stories originate on the fake news sites.
Research shows that people spread falsehoods and fake news more rapidly and widely than factual news. Untruthful news is 70 percent more likely to be retweeted on Twitter than true news, according to researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It’s usually not influencers who spread the fake news. Twitter users who spread false reports tend to have fewer followers. And bots are not a major factor.
The researchers believe misinformation spreads quickly because it’s more novel than true news, and people are more likely to share novel information. In other words, our brains are hardwired to be attracted to fake news. People prefer fresh, interesting lies more than the boring old truth. Fake news publishers exploit our natural attraction to what’s new or different.
In addition, fake news publishers know how to trick us by sending coordinated, consistent messages. Viewers are more likely to believe something if they’ve seen it several times a day. Overwhelmed by information, viewers are more vulnerable.
The importance of monitoring websites
The fake news problem underscores why it’s essential for businesses and celebrities to monitor the web for mentions of their corporate and brand names (or personal names, in the case of well-known individuals).
Most media monitoring services may uncover factually incorrect articles from traditional news sources, but don’t specifically monitor sites that are known distributors of fake news. It’s essential to employ a media monitoring service that monitors the thousands of fake news sites and delivers timely email alerts to enable swift responses before misinformation spreads. It’s also advisable to select a media monitoring service that will add specific fake news sites that an organization or celebrity wants to monitor.
It’s vital for public relations professionals to take the lead on combatting fake news if they are to protect the reputations of their companies and clients. When alerted immediately, PR professionals can expose a fraudulent report on their owned media and social media accounts. They can inform media outlets about the fake report if needed, and seek a takedown of the original story if possible.
For many companies and nonprofits, fake news monitoring complements their traditional media monitoring services for online news, print, broadcast news and social media. However, unlike traditional media monitoring and press clipping services, where businesses hope to get many media mentions, the goal of fake news monitoring is to get no fake news clips — no stories with false or hateful information. Nonetheless, it’s the one false story in a year or two that can undermine a corporate or personal reputation built over decades. Monitoring fake news sites is crucial to catch that one story and prevent it from spreading.
William J. Comcowich founded and served as CEO of CyberAlert LLC, the predecessor of Glean.info. He is currently serving as Interim CEO and member of the Board of Directors. Glean.info provides customized media monitoring, measurement and analytics solutions across all types of traditional and social media. Glean.info offers a Fake News Monitoring Service that collects content from more than 2,000 known fake news websites.