Fake news is clearly the bane of politicians and public figures. It also can be painful for your marketing department.
If someone can get away with sliming a political opponent with a fake story or a deepfake video, why believe the same can’t happen in marketing. Misinformation can be a powerful aphrodisiac.
“Misinformation strategy relies on the powerful human instinct of believing there cannot be smoke without a fire,” says marketer Mark Schaefer. “If so many people are talking about it, there must be something to the rumors.”
Schaefer says social media platforms can be like petri dishes to turn misinformation into viral epidemics. Apologies, corrections and legal cases can’t retract the harm.
As fake news and deepfake videos threaten our democracy, they also may poison the channels people have trusted to gather information about products, services and brands. If you can’t trust what you trust, why trust anything. Or worse, you begin to trust what isn’t trustworthy.
As recently as a few years ago, this may have been a futuristic scenario meriting only speculation in a philosophy class on ethics. The advent of technology that is accessible and actionable on a laptop computer has turned the theoretically possible into the horrifically probable, with consumers as unwitting converts.
Two steps are obvious for marketers. The first is being on high alert for fake ads, regardless whether they target your brand. It should be everybody’s business to guard against bad business practices. Second, don’t succumb to the temptation to engage in fakery, even in jest. There are endless ways to be clever without being deceitful.
Sadly, someone will get away with a successful masquerade of a politician or a brand and it could start a deadly trend, sort of like paragliding off a steep cliff without checking to see if you are harnessed to your kite. You might survive, but others won’t be so lucky.
Being vigilant won’t be easy. There are so many channels, so many dark corners of the web, so many traffickers who profiteer off fake news. As we’ve recommended in previous blog posts, a robust media monitoring effort, which includes forensic analysis of content, is essential.
False claims and voodoo video are regrettably here to stay. Government regulation, if it occurs, will never be capable of capturing and controlling all of it. It will truly take a village of marketers to spot fakery and call it out. Blowing the whistle on fake news and deepfake videos won’t make their harmful content disappear, but it will give the public a chance to reach an honest judgment and, hopefully, reject as untrustworthy the sources that produce and promote intentional misinformation.
Gary Conkling is principal and co-founder of CFM Strategic Communications, and he leads the firm's PR practice, specializing in crisis communications. He is a former journalist, who later worked on Capitol Hill and represented a major Oregon company. But most importantly, he’s a die-hard Ducks fan. You can reach Gary at email@example.com and you can follow him on Twitter at @GaryConkling.