I remember the first time I was a victim of it. Socializing online a few years ago, I came across what I thought was the sad, premature death of an actor I admired. He wasn’t young, but he was at the top of his career, delivering riveting performances with amazing consistency. I was bummed. Then I dug a little further, curious about his age. That’s when I discovered he wasn’t dead at all. Fake news caught me looking.
Depending on your source for news, you can be faked out throughout the day, every day, on topics ranging from celebrity deaths to political upheavel to climate fallout. There are no Geneva Convention rules for the creators of fake news who wage war on individuals, companies, countries, culture and anything that can stimulate chaos.
Is it a rollercoaster out of control, or can we step on the brakes? First-mover Malaysia introduced the world’s first anti-fake news legislation and then put it to work, sentencing its first person under the law. Good for them, but in the U.S., freedom is part of our entitlement culture, and I’m not so sure we can expect any such policing.
Enter Facebook, the brand that likely delivers more channels and pathways for fake-news distribution than any other platform. Recently it stated that it will “combat fake news by pushing up news articles that come from 'high quality' sources, and pushing down the others.” Of course, it will be asking users which news organizations they trust; now we have to assume those individuals are not … fake.
In the world of public relations, we have remained consistent in acknowledging the most important, “high quality” news outlets. We consider them the mainstream media – MSNBC, NPR, CNN, Fox News, ABC, CBS, Wall Street Journal, and those business and vertical market media assigned to every imaginable industry. They bring a degree of credibility and trust because they have leadership and stakeholders overseeing their content. That’s not to say they are perfect, but they are accountable. For bloggers who joined the news scene over the last decade or so, taking a bite out of mainstream media profits, there's currently a high degree of scrutiny. They have to work hard to differentiate themselves from fake news outlets.
So it seems we are coming full circle again, with mainstream media once again returning to relevance. Of course, even mainstream media sometimes blur the lines of reporting vs opinionating. We can’t have everything, but if I choose to block out the socially charged fake news from my iPhone and stay true to my stalwarts – Wired, Fast Company, Bloomberg, The Economist and their peers – at least I’ll know if someone is dead or alive.