After years of diverting advertising revenue away from traditional print media, it would appear that Google and Facebook have finally realized they have a symbiotic relationship with publishers and can ill-afford to see them go out of business.
The catalyst for this has been the rising tide of unsubstantiated claims and misinformation appearing on these and other digital platforms. An explosion in so-called “fake news” has damaged their brands. As a result, they have both just announced measures that will place a greater value on high quality digital journalism going forward.
Against this backdrop, I thought I would spend this week’s two bits considering how PR might help a world grappling with the fake news phenomenon.
Social media platforms and owned media – an organization’s website, blog, video and podcast assets – have provided the capability to express views, however extreme or biased, as news. At the same time, traditional news sources are under fire, tainted by scandal, accused of dishonesty and generally playing fast and loose with the facts.
Even the BBC, regarded by many as the gold standard of balanced reporting, is not immune from such criticism as in the recent “hat-gate” case. Peripheral, Internet-based media muddy the water further by dwelling on story aspects that support their agenda and neglecting those that conflict with it.
To tackle this, Google recently announced a new $300 million initiative to promote quality news on digital media while Facebook has commenced its Facebook Journalism Project. The latter has also launched a news section within its Watch video hub for official media partners.
Both organizations rely heavily on advertising revenue which is, in part, fuelled by traditional media content. If high volumes of “free-to-access news” force publishers to close, the repercussions affect their bottom line.
Recent research by Pew suggests 67% of US adults get their news from social media ,while in a similar study by the Factual Democracy Project, 73% of voters expect Facebook to adhere to the same high standards of other media companies and only publish accurate stories.
When it comes to news, the truth has never been more elusive. One idea is that business leaders and entrepreneurs should step forward and take on more responsibility as the arbiters of truth.
It’s an interesting thought. One of our clients sponsors a national competition to find the entrepreneur of the year. The semi-final is held in an old canal side warehouse converted into a hip new hub for start-ups. Inside meeting rooms with slightly pretentious names, like buzz, build, evolve and win that would be right at home in a David Nobbs comedy, contenders are asked to quite literally bash out their nerves by physically abusing a table with a rolled up newspaper.
The contenders are smart, young and tech-savvy. With raw energy and passion, they each deliver a three-minute pitch to earn a coveted place in the final. Everyone speaks from the heart. Their personal journeys are very moving. In short, entrepreneurs are certainly among some of the most authentic people I’ve ever met.
So, could personal integrity and proven achievement of this nature be harnessed for a tech-based society as a way to combat fake news?
Fake news thrives on popular distrust of authority figures. Many established leaders belong to an older generation whose ideas are outdated and out of touch with tech-centric, every day 21st century life.
The PR industry, with its talent for setting the news agenda and communicating the facts, is well placed to help shape how the next generation of leadership is viewed.
Perhaps it’s a relationship that could one day help business leaders become the universally acknowledged standard bearers for truth.
Outside of the “Entrepreneur of the Year” competition, there can’t be many other contests where people who are technically in fierce competition actually bond with their peers and provide so much emotional support for one another. The world could certainly learn a lot from their example.
While fake news has left people questioning their leaders, the most appropriate response I can think of is to quote a business leader whose integrity is, for the most part, still held in the highest regard:
“Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower.” – Steve Jobs