It’s been said a lie can make it halfway around the world before the truth has time to put on its shoes. The point is that people tend to latch onto lies before the truth has a chance to be heard.
This truism is being tested—and reinforced—on a daily basis in this age of “fake news.” It doesn’t matter how a person defines “fake news,” it’s one of those things that you know it when it happens to you.
Unfortunately, many people do not know it when they see it—and, when you confront fake news about yourself or your brand, the inclination is for the person who already believes the story to doubt your protests. It’s vicious cycle that is all too common these days.
So, how do you effectively counter fake news, especially when the audience wants to believe the worst?
Take a minute
One of the traps “fake news” can pull you into is trying to react rather than respond. If you see a nasty rumor going around on social media and immediately engage, you are more apt to do more harm than good. Instead, step back, take a breath and connect with your communications team and assess your response very carefully. Look at the facts of the allegation and run it through the famous 5Rs: What was said, exactly, and what was implied? Where was it published? When was it published? Who said it, and what may have been their motivation to publish this content? Why were you targeted, and what would the person responsible have to gain?
Consider the appropriate response
Should you contact or respond to the originator of the content directly? Can you even determine who the originator is? Would it make better sense to use a different approach in responding to these fake stories? These are questions that should be answered as you craft a response. Factors to consider include how far the story has traveled? Is this a legal issue where authorities should be called? Should you contact legal counsel yourself? Can you demand the information be retracted, removed or taken down?
Plan your next steps
Even if you are successful in having the fake news removed, understand that this is the beginning of dealing with the issue, not the resolution of the issue. There is nothing ever truly “gone” online. Screen captures and cached content mean even deleted stories can be recycled. Worse, many tabloid-style websites that live and breathe the salacious will only double down when challenged. They may make a story out of your demands that they stop lying. By the time they actually retract or amend the first fake news, the rumor has a life of its own.
Control the narrative
In the end, the best way to beat fake news is with a better narrative and a more influential bullhorn. Controlling a powerful version of the story that benefits you is the ultimate goal. You want to come out looking better, not vengeful, angry or frustrated. To that end, the focus should not be on “correcting” the information alone. The goal should be to create an image so ironclad that people want to believe the best about you. That takes time, effort, careful planning … and all of that foundation has to be laid before the fake news drops.