Fake news again…

Posted on 4 December

With another scandal surrounding President Trump emerging this week, Charlie looks at how BC professionals should respond if their organisation's reputation is being damaged by fake news.

Most of you will have seen President Trump in the news this week for retweeting a number of anti-Muslim videos, originally posted by the deputy leader of the far-right group Britain First. The videos were of a ‘Muslim immigrant’ attacking a boy on crutches, a ‘Muslim’ destroying a statue of the Virgin Mary and yet more ‘Muslims’ pushing a person off a roof. It didn’t take long for the authenticity of the pictures to be verified and they were not what they were labelled to be - examples of Muslims behaving badly in Western countries. The ‘Muslim immigrant’ turned out to be a local Dutch boy, the individual smashing the Virgin Mary was from an ISIS propaganda video, and the people on the roof were rioters in Egypt.

It is very ironic that the President, who is keen to denounce fake news, is one of the peddlers of it.

This event played out on the world stage and many people were quick to criticise the promotion of the videos, verify their authenticity and point out the errors of labelling. Imagine if a mislabelled video was used to denounce or damage your organisation. We, as business continuity professionals, should think about how we would deal with a similar situation.

Faking photos has been happening for a long time and falsified images are used for various purposes. For example, the USSR doctoring photos and cutting people out of group photos, as they no longer suited the regimes purposes. I was reading an article in The Economist Magazine recently, which said advances in video technology and CGI has led to videos being faked as well as photos. But in this case, all that has happened is those posting the video have found appropriate footage and mislabelled it to suit their organisation’s dialogue.

If your organisation’s reputation is being damaged by a video, how should you react? 

1. Firstly, find a copy of the video and get it verified by a video expert. Could it have been faked or tampered with?

2. Verify whether the event portrayed within the video could have happened as it is depicted. If it is your staff behaving badly, such as the Taco Bell employee who posted a picture of himself on Facebook licking a stack of taco shells, then you should admit to the incident and apologise. You should also post information on your website regarding how you have investigated the event and punished the perpetrator, as well as the steps you have taken to ensure that the incident does not happen again.

3. To label an event as fake is a bit more difficult. If you are convinced that the footage is not of your organisation or mislabelled, you should use either a proactive or passive strategy to debunk the video and explain your evidence in doing so. In an proactive strategy, you could use social media to promote your side of the story and signpost people to your website where they can find more information. You could also contact key stakeholders, if you think they have seen the incident and are worried about it.

If you decide to adopt a passive strategy, you could choose not to engage with those promoting or sharing the video, working on the premise that if there is no response, or nothing further to feed the story, the item will fade very quickly. You could put information discretely on the website, so if someone wants further information, they can find it.

4. It is a good idea to keep the information available on your website, or at least visible for several years, in case someone is looking for it on a search engine. People will come across it when they are searching for your organisation and if they can also find your debunking or apology at the same time, they can see the event in context and make up their own mind.

5. Lastly, more and more people on social media believe what they want to believe. So, if they believe that you are likely to partake in the event, it plays into existing stereotypes about your organisation or they just don’t like you. In that case, whatever you say, they will not be persuaded and the debunking will not work. Often the people who are most angry or vociferous are people with absolutely no connection to your organisation or brand, who may be from the other side of the world. You just have to accept that they will never be persuaded. 

As a business continuity professional, you should review this event with your communication people and discuss how they would would handle the situation. Perhaps you could bring some fake news into your next exercise!