Crisis Planning for Fake News

Fakery is nothing new — it’s been around forever. So what’s changed? Scale. Appetite. Success. And much more.

In our last blog, we reset crisis planning to a Fast Framework process, which provides the most vital information and sketches out responses to potential key incidents. And if you’re doing crisis planning right, then you systematically update and test your incident response systems. Ideally twice a year, just like changing that battery in the smoke alarm. So what should you be sketching out for the big crisis concerns of 2017?

Fake news. There isn’t even a close second in terms of risks.

We’ve all seen fakery before. It’s been around forever. If you’re a consumer company, you’ve already addressed things like Yelp reviews from social trolls who haven’t even walked into your place, or on a grander scale, that product failure and customer rant that may have been exaggerated or even drummed up on YouTube.

And if you’re a B2B company, you’ve already dealt with things like the competitive hit job, which can take many forms, including advertising of (sometimes bogus) studies and benchmarks.

So wait, if fakery has been around forever, what’s changed? Scale. Appetite. Success. And much more.

Fake news is now a cultural and technology industry with bars so low in content, distribution and addiction that it is very easy to create, promote and share. We’re seeing people of influence (at the highest levels) lobbing or sharing fakery, sometimes for motive, sometimes just by accident. Facts are under assault. And it’s a business model for a new type of radical journalism, a mechanism for fraud, an insult lobbed at legitimate organizations, and, potentially a perfect vehicle for malware and phishing (but that’s for another blog).

And it spreads. Like crazy. We are so desperate to share and vent online that we all often overlook the source. The studies are coming out. They show how hard it is to differentiate fake news, adding to existing confusion.

The time it takes to correct a falsehood moves at a snail’s pace compared the rocket of the juicy or timely fake news story. By the time you get ahead in correcting a falsehood that has incorrectly been picked up by real (or popular) outlets and shared several hundred thousand times, the aggressor has already planted a new one.

Stop Freaking Me Out. What Do I Do?

Correct Fast and Smart. Duh. Move fast. That’s always been the case. But how and where do you correct fakery? That’s the tricky part. Don’t just go after the fake outlet and forgery as your only tactic. That will just twist you up and it’s a slow, often legal, process. Fakers don't care about accuracy. Getting you worked up, spinning and disrupted is part of the goal. 

Go after the fakery distribution model. You won’t extinguish the spark, but can hamper the spread of it. Was it picked up by a legitimate outlet? Most legitimate outlets are freaked out about fake—and that’s good, since it should mean they’ll correct faster. And that correction arms you with third-party validation to further help stamping it out.

How many fake chickens to chase? Well, that’s a case-by-case basis, and your communications team and advisors can help you determine what’s worth dealing with. You already have more experience here than you think, especially in terms of social media and customer complaints.

There’s no magic rule here. Drawing a firm line is impossible, just like that classic Bugs Bunny/Yosemite Sam cartoon. It will keep moving. And you will be the one moving it. You need serious, experienced advisors to leverage tools to monitor and make the call, and rely on your crisis sketchbook to help you move faster.

Pay Attention and Learn. Fake news is the “new” moving target in not only your crisis plan, but your daily marketing life. Watch it, learn it, challenge it in your industry and your personal life. All your monitoring systems need to adapt, and do some A/B testing to filter and escalate. Set up alerts for fake news in your industry, read what’s happening, and track how the latest could impact you. Social and search giants are starting to deal with fake news, but we’re at the beginning of the journey. Plug-ins and other technologies are emerging to help sort the signal from the noise. It's changing fast, so keep up.

The Fake News Incident Checklist and Resource Folder. You know by now I’m a big fan of simplified “checklists” for incident response that link to resources. Speed and adaptability are so important—and these things get you going faster. So all that learning needs to live somewhere. Store it. Use it to get smart fast when needed.

Content and Social Policy Updates. Organizations already have these (if you don’t, dope slap yourself and call me—again—for intervention). Update them to address fake news. Tricky stuff, since it’s intertwined with politics, and all sorts of HR and constitutional messiness. That means you are working with HR, legal, comms and your mission and values to promote truth and draw boundaries for employees in very tricky times.  

Awareness and Policy Training. Policies aren’t worth anything if you don’t practice them. Get “Fake News” on your training/brown bag lunch/retreat agenda in the next 30 days. Start distributing news about it. What’s changing? How are companies handling it? Your industry/news summaries to executives and sales should include flags for competitive sales alerts. They now need to include flags for fake news, and warnings not to spread them. In our social networks, the only editor is ourselves. Many of us are not trained journalists, and if we’re lucky, our peers will keep us honest (and they aren’t trained editors or fact checkers). So deliver education on how to spot it and what to do.

Don’t Be Part of the Problem. Competitive pressures are always intense. And businesses love to stretch and qualify the truth. But now, more than ever, you need to apply your vision and mission to the promotion of the truth. Honestly correct missteps. You have to train your staff and promote a firm ethical stance not to spread it, even it if benefits you. It is very easy for today’s socially active corporate executives and employees to share something false, and embarrass themselves and the corporation. Live up to your values, and put in some systems to help your corporate influencers from stepping in it.

Want to know about the intersection of fake news, privacy and information security? Check out Look Left’s report: “Falling for Fakery.”  

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