The new media landscape has experienced a dramatic transformation with the rise of the 24/7 news cycle, often dominated by half-facts and misinformation. With increasing frequency, brands and agencies are being pulled into conversations they were not prepared to be a part of. Other brands and agencies are going on the offensive in the new environment – taking stands and sides on hot social, cultural and political issues impacting audiences.

In two panels, one in London, the other in New York City, we heard from brands, media, and PR leaders on how misinformation has affected these spaces up to this point, and how they expect the future to shape up. If you missed our events, we’ve curated the top trends our speakers surfaced throughout the night right here.

New York Panel

In New York, we heard from Chris Gee, Managing Director of Digital Strategy at Finsbury, who quickly identified a key problem brands face in the age of social media commentary:

“Many consumers are starting to feel like they have a personal connection with brands. There is a bit more responsibility where trust and authenticity comes in.”

When you are able to speak directly to your audience and in turn, they voice opinions in real time, there is a responsibility to respond and continue to build trust. Problems arise when brands bury the negativity or choose not to engage at all.

Gregory Young, SVP of Integrated Communications Planning at Weber Shandwick said brands need to be prepared for a crisis. It’s inevitable and “at the end of the day, you need to control your story or else you’re going to let someone else control it for you.”

While it’s become increasingly challenging for brands to know when to take a stand or push back on an unexpected crisis, Young encouraged brands to espouse their values, so when “something happens, it at least causes consumers to pause for a second and say, ‘would I really expect this brand to do this?’ as opposed to just believe it’s something this brand would do.”

Not only should company values and ideals be public and easy to find, the onus is on brands to continually back up what they’re pushing to the public, otherwise they’ll be significantly more susceptible when misinformation or crises inevitably hit.

Changes in technology are difficult to anticipate, but considering how quickly the lines of communication between organizations and their audiences were altered in the past 10 years, companies have to be prepared for anything.

Every industry is considering how to interact with their audiences in the face of misinformation over the next couple years, and Ginnie Teo, Breaking News Editor, New York Daily News gave us some insight into the news industry’s role in sharing information.

“It’s going to be very difficult, we’re going to have to be very vigilant. [There are] people spreading misinformation not just from this country, but all over the internet.”

Teo stressed that in the age of misinformation especially, the New York Daily News is striving to be “not first, but accurate,” choosing to hold back stories until they are confirmed and fact checked. News organizations face added pressure to combat the spread of misinformation and compete with the attention fake news sites get, while agencies are trying to navigate the rise of falsities on the internet.
Chris Gee of Finsbury said, “I think we’ve got to demand more from institutions and social networks, but I think we’ve also got to demand more from ourselves. You know we’ve got to do a lot better at policing ourselves and understanding that there can’t just be multiple, different types of truths.”

Gee added that being cognizant of what is being shared and how companies can contribute to the spread of misinformation if they aren’t on alert for the impact it can have.

London Panel

At our panel in London, we caught up with Darika Ahrens, Jenni Sargent, Meglena Petkova, and Robert Elliott, to dive deeper into global trends regarding misinformation. 

When it comes to what counts as “misinformation” Jenni Sargent, Managing Director of First Draft News, had this to say, “We don’t use the ‘f word’ [fake news] at First Draft, it has been completely weaponized. It’s something that I think there’s debate around what is familiar and what the public understands what [fake news] means and they absolutely don’t.”

Sargent brought up their use of “disputed information” as a replacement because while people are much more likely to believe something that confirms our existing beliefs. For example, “if we just say ‘that’s fake and here’s why you should understand that,’ what we should be saying is “we dispute that, and as in any courtroom, we would provide evidence to support our argument and you do the same.” Instead of assuming readers or consumers of media don’t understand high level concepts, treat them with respect and defend the argument with evidence.

Robert Elliott, CEO & Founder of Zinc Network brought up how misinformation affects his company’s workflow. “The question we ask ourselves at work is what’s the problem and what’s going to create a bad, negative outcome? So we’re often looking at, well is the information truthful or not truthful? And if it is truthful, is it being amplified and exaggerated for malicious reasons? We’re looking at that and I guess different networks are good at doing different things depending on what your agenda is.”
Elliott highlights a key point when it comes to combatting misinformation on various platforms:

misinformation takes many forms and when handling a crisis it’s important to understand how or why it is spreading on which channel.

And finally some ideas directly from our panelists for those trying to combat misinformation in their work:

    • Be responsible. Employ the idea of strategic silence, consider that if you amplify something in an effort to dispute it, you might actually be adding oxygen.
    • Consider underlying factors: the information people consume is only one aspect of what influences the decisions they make. Ask, “why are these narratives working in the first place?” rather than just analyzing the narrative and thinking about how to combat it.
    • Challenge “digital first” narratives, contribute and have access to different information channels in order to reach people and keep them informed.

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Katherine Ellis

Katherine was a Content Strategist for NewsWhip working at the confluence of journalism + marketing. She was a prolific writer, whose wit and charm brought smiles to everyone in the office. We miss her terribly and hope that her memory lives on in the brilliance of the words she so lovingly wrote for us. Farewell, sweet Katherine! 

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