Fake News and the PR Professional
Long considered “spin doctors” capable of astounding feats of misinformation, today’s world of fake news coming from a growing number of news sources calls into question the role of credible PR professionals in navigating (and guiding others) through this increasingly complex landscape.
Because as much as we hate to admit it, the growth of fake news is the ugly underbelly of the business of information management – which is our business.
20 years ago, PR professionals had to decide where we stood on working for big tobacco, gambling, alcohol or other brands/clients who may have not necessarily aligned with our personal ethics. Of course, holding companies, mergers and acquisitions have made that more difficult. In addition, today, we need to decide to what extent we will police and manage fake news – because if it hasn’t happened yet, the day will soon come when a client requests the use of fake news technology to get their message to their target audience.
Many of us are currently sitting on the sidelines watching the use of AI, image and sound alterations and blatant lying while falling somewhere along a spectrum between “wow” and “doesn’t surprise me.” As professionals, however, I wonder what our role should be in speaking out, helping to educate those around us as to what “real” information looks like and calling out/shaming those who are working to manipulate public opinion and behaviour in this way.
Ultimately, opinion and behaviour change have always been at the core of what we do. The only difference was that there were intermediaries - like journalists and editors - between the source and the messaging platform. Those professionals are under attack and their outlets struggle to survive while alternative, questionable sources proliferate.
So, as professionals who understand the work that goes into credible news delivery, brand management and storytelling, the next time mom says she “read it on Facebook,” it’s perhaps worth a brief discussion about how that information got to her and why.
Otherwise, maybe our future truly is as spin doctors.