Fake News on Social Media: Why Should Your Company Care?

Fake News on Social Media: Why Should Your Company Care?

The unexpected Donald Trump’s victory (and the not-so-true stories that made it possible) forced a number of high-profile websites including the Guardian, the Telegraph and ArsTechnica to publish posts covering the subject and giving us some useful tips on how to detect a false story on the Web. Today I’d like to address the issue from a different angle: can false news have a negative impact on your business and will it slow down further development of social media? Let’s think together.

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The rise of false stories on social media (and what it means for Internet users)

The “fake news” term refers to a knowingly false piece of information distributed across social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter or even broadcasted nationwide (Russia says hi).

Here are a few examples of fake news that has resonated with a large audience and led to serious consequences:

  • In the midst of the US 2016 Presidential Election campaign a suspicious post exposing Hillary Clinton’s connection to a child sex ring headquartered at a Washington, D.C. pizzeria was published on Reddit, causing quite a stir among Trump supporters (14% of whom believed it to be true). In the end, a North Carolina gunman drove all the way to the location to self-investigate the “Pizzagate” case;
  • Russian hackers had reportedly tried to interfere in French elections; recent studies identify 25% of the election-related news shared on Twitter days before the final round of the French election as “junk”, “expressing views with logical flaws” or “opinions passed along as facts”. On Twitter (where bot accounts are still allowed), about 30% of accounts which had distributed pro-Trump content during the US election were involved in anti-Macron rants and tried to disrupt German elections. Luckily for us, both German and French voters were more critical towards social media news: 80% of content shared during the elections had come from reliable sources;
  • Moving away from politics, we can find multiple examples of false news affecting prominent brands. A few months ago Kay Jewelers was accused of replacing a diamond with a cheaper stone during a ring repair. Although the company addressed the claim as false, its stock has fallen by over 3%. Ace Hardware, the world’s largest hardware retail cooperative, faced social media backlash for refusing to sell products to North Dakota protesters. Originally published by US Uncut, the article generated over 130 thousand engagements on Facebook – only to be denounced by Ace representatives.

Once a false story hits the Web, it will continue to haunt an unlucky brand for years – and here’s why every business or tech entrepreneur who’s about to embark on a social networking app development project should fight the problem alongside political leaders.

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Where does fake news come from?

False stories – that is, articles and videos made up to resemble credible news – are published on satellite sites that thrive on advertising. The content’s primary purpose is to drive traffic to a particular website, and that’s why fake journalists always cover controversial topics and come up with catchy headlines like “Fake cigarettes are being sold and killing people”, “Trump endorsed by the Pope” or “Child crucified in Ukraine”.

As ridiculous as it sounds, recent Stanford studies have revealed US students’ shocking inability to differentiate news articles from advertising (to say nothing of false stories written by pros). If you think you’re better at detecting false information than the average US student, check out this BBC quiz.

Neither Facebook nor Twitter acknowledged the impact of fake news on the US election results and the lives of ordinary Internet users at first. Following pressure from journalists, cybersecurity experts and social media regulars, however, both companies shared plans to introduce tools enabling users to flag misleading content.

Surprisingly, the implementation of Facebook’s fact-checking system had quite the opposite effect: once an article got labelled as false, users were more likely to engage with it. The social media tycoon then chose to fight fake news with machine learning algorithms which analyze article headlines and identify common phrases that had been used in clickbait articles back in the day.

Does the future of social media lies in Artificial Intelligence, then?

A recent experiment conducted by Talos Intelligence, TU Darmstadt and University of London has proved neural networks can indeed identify whether two articles are on the same topic with 80% accuracy. Although the results of the study do not directly relate to fighting fake news and bot accounts on social media, its findings clearly reveal AI’s limitations: the new tech is not really good at processing natural language and can only help humans track false stories faster.

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How to protect your company from fake news?

In today’s world where anyone can put up a simple WP blog, livestream videos on Facebook or start a YouTube channel protecting a brand from fake news is quite a challenge.

Here’s what you can do in case someone misinforms your customers:

  • Be the first to respond to false accusations. Whether fake news made it to your FB brand page or was published by a creepy website hosted in Macedonia, your PR team should be the first to address the issue and share the reply on multiple social media platforms;
  • Connect to people who continue to spread misleading information. You don’t have to deal with every Facebook troll, of course. However, it make sense to DM paying customers, influencers and opinion leaders – that is, people important to your company – and try to change their mind;
  • Craft high-quality content to correct misinformation. Remember the Kay Jewelers incident? What are you going to do if you find yourself in a similar situation? Instead of distracting customers with random articles promoting your new product line or big sale, you should prepare a detailed post covering the process of ring repair and inspection. Join the conversation – and your customers will appreciate it!

And, of course, you should constantly monitor what other people say about your company on social media and choose social media filters wisely to display your content to the right audience.

Here at r-stylelab.com we believe the journey to a healthy corporate image starts with cybersecurity (including the right choice of a website CMS and bug-free mobile apps), a well-though-out content marketing strategy and strong social media presence. Only brands that deliver value to their customers and never fail to hear them can survive in the fake news era.

 

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