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OCTOBER 16, 2018 //     

Storytelling in the age of fake news and implications for communicators

By: Pranav Kumar

Fake news’ emergence has been top of mind for communicators all over the world, and India is no exception. As of late, India’s brands have also been subject to errant fake news stories exacerbated by the rise of social media and democratisation of data.

At this year’s edition of PRAXIS in Hyderabad, India, the largest assemblage of communications professionals in the country, we discussed the rise of fake news and what it means for practitioners in our industry. Here are a few key takeaways from an insightful and lively panel discussion with a mix of industry leaders from brands and agencies, moderated by International Institute of Public Relations Director of Research Sarab Kochhar:

In its annual “State of the Industry” report released at the September event, The Public Relations Council of India (PRCAI) concluded 50 percent of industry professionals see the need for quality counsel and fake news combating capabilities as opportunities for expanded services.

While trust in institutions continues to decline, mainstream media have a pivotal role to play as ultimate vanguards of the truth. Having said that, fake news still finds its way to mainstream media at times, underscoring a need for increasing editorial caution and emphasis on objectivity.

International fact-checker Snopes compiles lists of trending fake news stories. In its recent analysis, it concluded that from 50 such examples, at least 12 stories involved brands in a fake or manipulated story. Big brands in particular are more vulnerable because of the large audiences they engage with. As for India, while there may be fewer instances of fake news involving brands, this will only continue to steadily increase presenting challenges. But it will also create opportunities.

In an age of misinformation and disinformation, fake news assumes varying proportions. Those perpetuating it have an agenda, and brands need to be cautious in choosing when and how to respond. From Internet trolls trying to get unscrupulous attention to deliberate and vicious attacks, different situations call for specific response mechanisms (or no response at all), making investments in monitoring and analytics tools critical.

Earned media is an effective bulwark in an age of the real-time news cycle and algorithm-fuelled content. Brands need to include paid media in their arsenals to dissipate any fake news triggered vitriol and take control of the narrative.

The timeless principle of brands exemplifying strong values on a consistent basis is invaluable. Having those virtues to fend-off impending fake news attacks can help them emerge even stronger.

Readiness for brands to handle any form of fake news and related maelstroms is pivotal. That means having crisis play-books with expanded scenarios to deftly and definitively manage potential situations. Additionally, pledging to information accuracy, authentic storytelling, choosing credible channels and engaging with quality influencers is a prerequisite for brands.

In the end, the basic tenets of public relations -- quality relationships, engagement and authenticity -- are vital tools in the fake news armour and effective deterrents in today’s post-factual, post-truth world.

Pranav Kumar is managing director of Allison+Partners in India.

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