Search the term ‘fake news’ in our industry’s top news sources… Go on.
You’re sure to find them signalling fake news as something that challenges communicators so far to the extent that it may be the end of us. However, I think it actually provides us with an opportunity. Let me tell you why…
I sat down with David Edmundson-Bird, Principal Lecturer in Digital Marketing at MMU, to discuss it as an issue and found that the answers to these problems are staring right back in our faces.
The ‘confirmation bias’ issue…
David suggested, “the problem for communicators lies in fact that it becomes difficult to break through the confirmation bias of their audiences”. Google, Facebook, Twitter and many other tech companies use complex algorithms to allow their users access information that is deemed ‘relevant’ to them by tracking their behaviour and creating psychographic profiles of them. As people use this more and more, their view of opposing material becomes narrowed as it is deemed ‘irrelevant’ to them by the algorithms aforementioned. Hence their own views are confirmed by ‘relevant’ sources, something which is magnified in the polarised society we currently live in.
However, Facebook’s trials of ‘pay to play’ newsfeed for advertisers might actually provide an answer for communicators. Even though it has also been decided, at large, it’s another curse alongside fake news for communicators. “You can turn the filter bubble on its head through payment” David suggests. Something I entirely agree with. Communicators need to become more intrusive in some respects when it comes to audiences they wish to reach that exist within their own ‘echo chambers’ of content.
“It would be interesting to see the likes of BP targeting environmentalists because of their psychographics”, David remarked. Which, although a challenging proposition, would certainly work when trying to interrupt the echo chambers in which they may operate.
Even traditional OOH media (billboards etc) could provide the answer. Channels that have been earmarked as a dying trade can actually deliver that intrusive way of communicating with people outside of their ‘filter bubbles’.
Are Google, Twitter, Facebook etc being exploited?
“Google doesn’t kill people, people using Google kill people”. A dramatic statement this time from David but something that reminds us that many tech companies, who hold relatively liberal values and consider themselves as proponents of free speech, have been exploited by others. However, they are beginning to realise that their social responsibilities are relevant and as David rightly points out, “you either self-regulate or you will be regulated by others”.
The solution to this is possibly the most simple of all. Value Proposition Design. Companies that wish to communicate with their target audiences online and be heard over the fake news/fake reviews regarding their products/services should simply be thinking about whether or not they are answering their needs and wants effectively. David points out, “If the person whose blog is all about hating you is top of the search results, they’re answering your audience’s needs better than you are.” We need to take a long, hard look at our working practices and ask ourselves the question, ‘Are we better at communicating with our audiences than fake news/fake review writers?’ If the answer is ‘no’ then tough luck!
How is MMU helping?
David stated that when it comes to Manchester Metropolitan University’s role in combatting the rise of fake news, ensuring that students are equipped with critical thinking skills to challenge this material is key. ‘Questioning sources, not trusting the first thing you see and looking for evidence to support the things you say can help.” This is illustrated when David looks fondly on as alumni ‘rip people’s ideas to pieces’ in industry. Something he takes serious pride in and rightly so! This is a skill that will last a lifetime and provide students and graduates with the opportunity to challenge what they come across in relation to ‘fake news’ and actually become industry leaders in the fight against it.
In summary, the solutions to ‘fake news’ are out there and they’re not that complicated. They’re challenging but should also be seen as a great opportunity. They can help us make sure we’re providing our target audiences with the best products/services and the can also force us to produce the best services we’re capable of!
MSc Public Relations student @ MMU
CIPR North West Committee Student Representative