Fake News PSA: Answering Apple’s Call

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  • February 21, 2017
  • Starr Million Baker

Apple CEO Tim Cook recently called for a “massive campaign” against fake news, stating that this epidemic can and should be addressed by technology companies, and quickly. He ended the interview by saying that he believes this plague to be a “short-term thing – I don’t believe that people want that at the end of the day.”

I disagree. After all, inquiring minds want to know – don’t they?

Long before click bait and Pizzagate came to be, grocery store shoppers across America couldn’t resist headlines that shouted of mythical medical maladies, alien abductions, and multiple babies (with multiple heads). Almost 100 years later – the National Enquirer debuted in 1926 – those same inquiring minds have salacious headlines coming at them not just at the checkout lane, but where they live – online. And they love it.

Why? Because stories are entertaining. Because what if, this one time, it were true? And because we humans have a massive desire to prove our own points, never mind the validity of the source.

To complicate matters, the growing supply and demand of fake news, in combination with the echo chambers created by social media, has had a considerably negative effect on the 4th estate. Trust in journalism is at an all-time low, and many readers either don’t know how to identify fake news or they assume that the “real” news has an element of fake in it too. And who can blame them?

Communicators should feel a huge responsibility to answer Tim Cook’s public outcry against fake news. If readers can’t discern what’s real, our jobs will not only become more difficult, but could potentially become obsolete. If the desire for stories that prove the point of the reader outweighs the desire for those that educate, inform, and shine a light on the truth, then what’s the point? We can’t let that happen.

What’s a communicator to do?

Work with journalists from legitimate news outlets and publications. Ensure they have the facts they need to write their stories. Take an interest in what they’re researching and writing regardless of whether it has anything to do with your client. Help journalism happen.

Anchor your writing in reality. Yes, headlines are a great way to get someone to click on your story, but let’s make a deal that they should be interesting, not misleading. Use action verbs and colorful descriptions to illustrate your points, not crappy quotes from dubious sources and opinions without fact.

Write bullet-proof press releases. In many instances, press releases are not the best vehicle to get your information to the media, and there are many other ways to get your story to all necessary stakeholders. But if the press release is deemed the best method of communication in a particular situation, it is the onus of the communicator to ensure it is chock-full of facts. The traditional press release is ripe for the proliferation of fake news, it’s our job to make sure it doesn’t get hijacked.

Don’t participate in pay-for-play opportunities that aren’t fully disclosed and transparent. Paying an outlet to tell your story is an opportunity for you to tell one that is heavy on your position, light on any others. Let’s get back to building relationships with journalists, as well as understanding what makes something newsworthy, and guiding our clients on what isn’t.

Share resources that identify and educate the public on fake news, on echo chambers, on opening the lines of communication. And be super careful about what you share. Don’t perpetuate the cycle. Don’t be driven by the click.

All of the above point to one thing: be the good, honest stuff, be the bar you wish others to hold themselves to, rather than chasing the latest trend and fad.

Tim Cook, here’s your PSA: Be the good stuff.

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