The Dangerous Impact Of Fake News On Social Media Marketing And Small Businesses

Impact Of Fake News On Social Media Marketing And Businesses

Moreton Bay tourism has suffered a dramatic hit as locals have reported being aggressively pursued by what appears to be killer dugongs. Terrified witnesses confirm that these slow-moving sea-cows-of-death are coming close to holidaying children. Local genetics laboratory claims no responsibility, but the wider Brisbane community is calling for a boycott of their unsafe and un-Australian practices. Local officials are yet to comment.

While this nightmare scenario thankfully isn’t true; it is an example of how fake news can spread quickly, maliciously and have a seriously negative impact on your business.

What is ‘fake news’?

‘Fake news’ became part of the dialogue during US President Trump’s election campaign. You may recall a reference to the ‘Bowling Green Massacre’ by US Counsellor Kellyanne Conway – a fictitious conflict used as evidence for America’s need for more closely guarded borders. The term is also used to dismiss the stories being run by major media outlets as ‘fake’ if they are in contradiction with the aims of the Trump administration.

The dangerous combination of fake news and social media had serious consequences during ‘Pizzagate’. There was confusion over the code in the hacked emails of Hilary Clinton’s campaign chief, John Podesta. Trump supporters ‘ran with’ the fake news that a Washington Pizzeria was, in fact, the headquarters of a child sex ring. A gunman opened fire in the restaurant as a direct result of this viral story.

Social media, chiefly Facebook, as an agent for the chaotic spread of fake news is thought to have influenced the outcome of the US election. As a result of their shock value and ability to incite high emotions, these fake news stories are shared at a much higher rate than legitimate reports from reputable sources.

How can you identify fake news?

Fake news is effective because it is often created to closely resemble real stories. These outlandish stories are made believable by clever use of language and manipulation of digital imagery. Considering that 62% of the US population receive their news from social media (and 44% through Facebook alone), the viral potential is high.

The intention of fake news is to deceive readers and create more traffic, which ultimately leads to someone profiting. Websites effectively ‘buy’ their audiences using Facebook content marketing which in turns leads to thousands of dollars of revenue for the publisher.

For the savvy media consumer, questioning the validity of reports, their source, the source URL and the presence of manipulated images will usually point to fake news. However, the ‘scroll through’ culture of Facebook and social media, as well as the tendency to share before reading, means that precious few social media users are taking the time to critically engage with content.

Consider this disruption: a fake news story about the Pope endorsing Candidate Trump went viral. It reached 1.2 million people through the power of social media. Could this potentially have affected the outcome of the election? Who may have been influenced and what may the impact of fake news have been?

There are five categories of fake news:

  • News created entirely to deceive readers
  • Satirical sites (like The Onion) which can spiral out of control when taken out of context
  • Hoaxes
  • Selective reporting or presentation of facts (fictionalised truth)
  • Reporting bias (be it intentional or subconscious)

How is Facebook responsible for the spread of fake news?

Blame the algorithm! Facebook is an intuitive device that shows users what it thinks they want to see. When fake news started to really ramp up, there was no way for the program to distinguish ‘real’ from ‘fake’ so it presented both to readers as if they were the same.

Facebook is a platform where both producers and consumers of content are combined into one mass audience. The traditional power structure that we grew up with is gone; no longer is the flow of information controlled by media companies. Fake news is not slowed down by distribution costs and is easily (and virally) spread by social media users. It’s like everyone has been given a megaphone and a soapbox and social media is being swamped by tailored ‘truths’ designed to influence, disrupt and cause chaos.

What is being done to stem the tide of fake news?

Facebook and Chrome are implementing some measures to try and address the problematic combination of social media and fake news.

  • Questionable stories will appear with the qualifier “disputed by third party fact checkers”.
  • Chrome will release a variety of plug-ins (e.g. Stop living a lie, B.S. Detector and Media Bias / Fact Check).
  • Slate have developed a Chrome extension called “This is Fake”. It will place a red banner over the preview image to identify a fake news story in your Facebook feed.
  • Facebook users will be able to flag and report fake news

The people VS Clickbait: How click culture contributes to the spread of fake news

As a business, it’s tempting to use clickbait because it WORKS. It’s eye-catching, easily shareable, promotes conversation and brings interest to your brand. It’s cheap, it’s shiny and it’s everywhere. It gets your brand OUT there and can dramatically increase your page views. More page views mean more advertising revenue. Win win! So what’s the problem?

Clickbait is also responsible for the meteoric rise of the fake news phenomenon and can irreparably harm your brand. Inaccurate or malicious messages are immediately poured into the public consciousness. Your customers, once they realise they’ve been fooled by clickbait, lose confidence in your brand and these negative signals (like unfollow or hide) can damage your precious SEO.

Consider our killer dugong scenario from earlier. (Yes, it’s safe to go back in the water.)

Here is the manipulated ‘clickbait’ image next to the original.

Impact Of Fake News On Social Media Marketing And Businesses

We would like to apologise in advance to The Dugong & Seagrass Conservation Project and all other lovers and protectors of Dugongs.

While you quickly understood that this was ‘fake news’ – consider the average Facebook scroller. Would they be so swift in dismissing this? How might this damage the local businesses or communities mentioned?

How does fake news impact content marketing and social media marketing?

In a word? Badly. Here’s what you need to do.

  • Many readers are becoming increasingly sceptical of sponsored content. To combat this, good social media marketing will cite third party references. Content will be appropriately labelled and any bias will be transparent.
  • Gain back the truth of your audience by referring to authentic media.
  • Research, research and research. Lazy sharing or a lack of fact checking will mean that you report on fake news. This greatly damages your reputation and, given the nature of the internet, could mean embarrassment on a large scale.
  • Make sure the content you create is authentic and honest.
  • Make sure your headlines are powerful and that they are an accurate representation of your content. In addition to this, make sure your use of images is appropriate.
  • Make sure your team can identify fake news and that they know exactly how damaging it can be to your business.
  • Use what you know about fake news to go viral in a good way: emotionally engaging content, ‘shareable’ articles and strong use of images.
  • Never post or repost rumours or unsubstantiated reports via your business page.
  • Read before sharing and make sure this isn’t an ‘echo chamber’ story.
  • Put a strategy in place NOW to defend yourself if you’re caught up in a fake news scandal.

The devastating impact of fake news on small business

Fake news, malicious targeting and social media scandals have crippled many a small business. The content goes viral and, suddenly, you’re on the world stage for a crime you didn’t commit. Here are some steps you can take to try and contain the damage.

  • Report fake news about your business by marking it as spam.
  • Notify Facebook if your business is being targeted.
  • If you are getting malicious, negative reviews you can turn off your review function and prevent visitor posts.

David and Goliath: The small business owner vs fake news

Consider fake news a challenge. Stand up for your business by publishing authentic content. This will establish you as an expert in your field and you’ll be considered a genuine authority instead of another squeaking voice in the crowd.

Using a reputable social media company will ensure that the same principles behind fake news are applied, positively, to your business. They’ll make sure your voice is relevant and recognised and protect you from the negative impact of fake news.

Let’s make social media great again.

Worried about the impact of fake news? Contact our expert team today and make viral communication work for you.