In the few months leading up to the United States election, social media was flooded with articles with sensationalized titles and incendiary content. Many of these “news” stories were fake. They were written for the purpose of swaying public opinion or generating a profit from ad revenue and were often published by sham entities or news websites. Large, popular companies may be the next targets, so this post will describe a few actions companies could take.

Impact of Fake News Stories

The impact of these fake news stories was far-reaching, perhaps because of the number of people who get their news from social media websites. A recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that a majority of adults in the United States (62%) get news on social media, the most popular platform being Facebook. Facebook was also the target platform for many of the election-related fake news stories circulating on the web in recent months.

The problem with these stories, beyond the obvious issue of presenting misinformation, is their ability to spread like wildfire. In fact, in the months leading up to the election, fake news stories often garnered more “shares” and “likes” than real stories from legitimate news organizations. See Vox – “The scariest part of Facebook’s fake news problem: fake news is more viral than real news.”

Post-election, social media companies are coming under scrutiny for not having policed the misinformation circulating on their platforms more carefully. While they try to design and implement policies to address the issue, the people who were behind creating and disseminating fake news stories (and many of whom profited from doing so) will have to find a new target – unsurprisingly, large, popular companies may well be the next targets.

Steps Companies Can Take

While social media companies are working to find solutions to the fake news problem, it may be difficult for them to restrict the speech of their own users and some may even feel that it is not necessary or appropriate for them to do so. Consequently, it will be important for other entities, who may become the new targets, to find ways to identify and respond to false stories, that in some cases, may cause real damage to stock prices, earnings or goodwill.

Some steps that companies may want to consider, include:

  • Monitoring – Implementing new policies and procedures for monitoring fake news stories will be necessary to identify them as early as possible, giving the company the best opportunity to mitigate any damage that the story might cause;
  • Educating – Educating consumers about any fake news that a company becomes aware of could help minimize the rate at which it spreads. Companies may want to use their own social media pages to communicate directly with their consumers on the same platform as the fake story;
  • Responding – Once a fake news story is out (and perhaps already widely distributed), a company may want to publish a press release or utilize a legitimate news source to clarify any false allegations.

The problem of fake news is difficult to address, because of the issues related to stifling speech and because of the challenges in addressing the sheer volume of individuals and activity on social media. The suggestions described above are not comprehensive and even companies that take all the right steps may find themselves the subject of a fake news story. It will likely take time and effort on the part of those who are targeted, the social media companies and legitimate news sources to address the issue and educate the public about how to identify fake news.