Interview starts at 11:45
Brad had earlier given a talk on how corporate communicators can best navigate a fake news world, a conversation that followed on nicely from the interview I did with Nick Barron of Edelman in the previous show, which is well worth a listen.
In that podcast, Nick said that fake news had always been around, and Brad agrees, as he said it’s the nature of human beings to, from time to time, tell lies and untruths. However, he added that the power and presence of the internet and the scale and impact of social media has just meant the manipulation of the truth has an impact that far exceeds the truth itself and it has changed world events.
APCO recently carried out its own research on the topic where they asked a representative proportion of UK and US population a series of questions about fake news and according to the findings, people don’t know what to trust because there is so much news and information available. However, Brad felt that people do want to trust the news. Everyone questioned in the survey trusted traditional media more than social media, but 18-34 year olds were twice as likely to support social media output than the over 55s. When asked whether they could distinguish between fake news and real news, 72% in the US and 67% in the UK said they could not.
Brad made a point that Julian Assange and Edward Snowden represent an aggressive movement for transparency, for clarity and for putting data and information out unencumbered to the world at large. Their choice to disaggregate traditional media that would validate that information paved a way for what we see now, i.e., a gap for those who will put out disputable data as news. These instigators created a sense that to get facts you do not need to go to traditional media, as in the past.
Brad said disruptors who saw this opportunity, i.e. Steve Bannon, a supporter of Donald Trump’s campaign and now the White House Chief Strategist, have been able to capitalise from this moment because there is a hunger within the population to hear what you want to believe created by like-minded people.
The beneficiaries of this fake news have been the politicians, not just Donald Trump, but also Putin, Xi Jinping, and other new nationalist leaders who manage the media, disaggregate the media or simply chosen to ignore traditional media and prefer to work with social media platforms.
Also in APCO’s research was the question of whether people felt they could distinguish between fake news and real news. It turns out that 69% of the US public and 53% of the British who responded, thought they could tell the difference, but when given some data that included both truthful and fake news coverage, it turns out Brits were better at actually identifying the difference.
Referring back to the title of his talk, Brad said that corporate communicators need to use caution to navigate the world of fake news. They need to be alert, aware and informed as well as using all the resources they have in their communications departments and using their agencies to make sure they have the ability to engage quickly from a position of authority and to rebuff fake news stories when they appear. He explained that many of his agency’s clients are big corporations facing challenges and changes they can’t get to grips with – unfamiliar markets or dynamics – so the fake news aspect creates opportunities for his business. Of concern is if the guidance or advice being given is correct at that moment and in that context.
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