Fake News, Rumours, and Social Positioning
In 2018, several credible news outlets published stories on how the fashion industry was the second most polluting industry in the world, behind oil. It turns out that that claim is not true, and the origin of the story is attributed to the retelling of a misinterpretation from a conference that cited a report that doesn’t exist. Fake news isn’t always deliberate, but the impact is real and can resonate with people even when the opposite is true. Should another story come out about fashion and pollution, many people would be more open to believing it because it reaffirms what they are familiar with.
A Destruction of Trust
When it comes to fake news, we cannot take for granted that people will recognize, question, or verify whether information is scientific or credible. Fake news has disrupted how we consume and share information and has also compromised public trust in the media. It has gotten to a point where misinformation can be weaponized, when it can impact the outcome of an election, the need to discern real from fake becomes urgent.
The most alarming effect of misinformation is that it goes beyond a lie, the stories presented are designed to elicit an emotional response from target readers so that facts are questioned or rejected should they enter the conversation. The point is to create doubt and to blurry trust between real and fake news. The goal is not to get people to support one narrative necessarily, but to get them to doubt the truth.
Why Fake News is Effective
Authors of fake news are able to persuade different people because they use personal data to appeal to different social segments and include a variety of misinformation in order to connect with individuals on some level.
Fake news aims to get people to react emotionally, and attempts to push divisiveness, creating an ‘Us vs. Them’ dichotomy. These stories generally have some form of call to action within its content, encouraging a target population to either do or not do something in order to support an outcome. Many people working to detect and filter out misinformation using machine-learning are studying language patterns, sentiment, and source reliability to come up with solutions should fake news start to disrupt other fields.
Rumour detection is an emerging technique that attempts to identify and verify the accuracy of a story as it emerges online. There have been interesting findings related to tracking engagement over time, but accurately judging the truth in rumours remains an issue. Asking a machine to perform these tasks is not unreasonable, but it can be difficult for a human to determine whether something is true or not.
Many social media platforms are taking steps to address misinformation. Instead of completely removing fake news, some believe it is more effective to provide users with more reputable, local, and diverse perspectives from known organizations and professionals. The rationale is that people will read multiple perspectives and judge fake news for what it is and recognize similar stories in the future. What was not anticipated though, was that people who believe and support fake news would push conspiracy theories that the more reputable sources are corrupt, reinforcing the perception that the fake news organizations are the objective sources of ‘truth’.
This is partially explained by the halo/horn effect, a bias where perception is influenced either negatively or positively by another unrelated trait. Usually, people form opinions from their past associations with the topic in question. They like or dislike something because of a strong memory that may not even be relevant to the present.
Considerations for the Future
For retail brands, fake news has the potential to exploit past controversies, or past stories that were believable, and manufacture outrage over something that may never have actually happened. This can be especially effective if consumer data is used to target loyal customers. It is important then, to clearly communicate to subscribers about their personal data and what security measures are in place to prevent user data from being misused. Also, in a time where consumers are more socially conscious than ever, it is necessary to make sure that your brand aligns with your customers’ values, and to address any controversies in a transparent manner.
For Orenda, we’ve observed that fake news is most impactful in conversations on political figures and ideas. That does not mean that it is contained. There is always the possibility that fake news can become influential in other industries and verticals. For that reason, we do not remove fake news from our analysis because it helps us to understand public perception. It is a key part of information that people take into account to develop their understanding, values, expectations, and behaviour related to how they talk about organizations and social topics.