Fake news stories and websites proliferated in 2016, and more of the same is expected this year. We asked several crisis management executives to offer some tips on what companies should be thinking about when weighing their response options.
Are there compliance/regulatory concerns companies need to be aware of when crafting a response to fake news?
Adele Cehrs, chief executive, Epic PR Group: “If a company provides credibility for the fake news story by responding to the claims as fact before checking the validity of the news, it could be held liable for any positive or negative implications that come from the piece related to the company’s stock price. Consult an attorney before releasing any statement to get ahead of the potential regulatory issues and stay out of trouble. If in fact the story is false or exaggerated the correspondence with your attorney can help you in the court of public opinion. Also, using a corporate social channel to state that the news source reporting the disinformation is ‘questionable’ will prompt your audience to further investigate the claims.”
Does the source of the fake story or social media post determine the type of response? Is there a difference in how a firm responds to a politician making false claims? Does the response change if fake stories are part of a more coordinated campaign?
“If it is a right-wing or left-wing news outlet with a clear agenda and slant, it may not be worth responding if you know the position you take will be taken out of context or manipulated. Retell the story in your own words with a corresponding media blitz on outlets that have a balanced approach to reporting. Have a public relations strategy ready to address follow-up questions and sensitivities that may arise.
“Companies that may be challenged by politicians must understand if they respond too strongly they will possibly create a bipartisan relationship with their stakeholders, which may negatively impact brand perceptions. Companies that have a corporate social responsibility position in place tend to do better in these situations than their middle-ground counterparts because their audience will anticipate their response–and that will in turn create more loyalty. The strongest bond you can build with customers is shared values, especially related to politics. For many companies, 2017 might be the year that forces brands to create a clear line in the sand related to what they stand for and believe in.”