Fighting misinformation: How to support the truth

By Thomas Becher, APR

Misinformation is dangerous.

Incorrect, misleading or out-of-context information – spread at the speed and ease of social media – can destroy reputations, move markets and even harm democratic institutions.

We’re seeing it with anti-vaccine falsehoods and political conspiracy theories. According to research from the Pew Research Center, misinformation can transcend all sorts of issues.

Unfortunately, the volume of “fake news” – whether intentional or inadvertent – has shaken public trust in government, politics and brands.

While not a new thing – recall the “yellow journalism” days of the late 19th century – misinformation in today’s always-on society is particularly harmful when technology makes it possible to manipulate text, audio and video.

Psychologists and cognitive scientists are studying this phenomenon, looking at things like the role of social media and troll farms that generate deliberate gibberish to seed rancor. Some people are unwitting participants, sharing misinformation without checking the facts.

But ultimately it’s up to you, as a representative or owner of your brand and as a social media user, to help stem the rising tide of misinformation one day at a time. It’s not hyperbole to say that our nation’s ideals are at stake.

What you can do

The marketplace of ideas can be messy. But there are ways you can help curtail misinformation while protecting your brand and standing up for the truth:

  • Learn about media literacy – and share your knowledge. Seek out websites like the non-partisan News Literacy Project to better understand how to spot hoax videos and stories. Learn about trustworthy media.
  • Research and verify. There are plenty of ways to check information online to spot falsities. Google writers. Check dates. If it’s too far-fetched to believe, it probably isn’t true.
  • Use simple messages when communicating complex issues. The more precise you say something, the less open you are to having your truth hijacked.
  • Back up your claims with facts and links to on-the-record documentation. The best way to fight misinformation is with bona fide facts from legitimate sources.
  • Quickly correct something wrong. State the facts but don’t attack those holding inaccurate beliefs. Show respect to others but be firm about your conviction. If needed, explain any misinformation and why it’s not true.
  • Don’t pick a personal fight online to correct a jerk who is pushing misinformation on your social media feeds. State the facts and move on. If you’re a brand, remind users of your policy about online behavior.
  • Get help if needed. It can be frustrating when you’re preaching the truth from the proverbial rooftop. But don’t give in. You should consider help from professionals to propel truth and diminish those damaging your brand.

Thomas Becher, APR, is director of marketing and PR services for ECU.  

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