5 ways you can join the fight against ‘fake news’

What should brand managers do to push back against disinformation and cratering public trust? Here are five actions to consider.


Distrust toward the news media is at an all-time high.

Throughout the past four years, journalism and news media has been plagued by claims that it is inherently biased, inaccurate and steeped in propaganda. This is true for some outlets (for which the damage is done), but certainly for not all. Now, as people of a divided nation align with either Fox News or CNN, fact is considered fiction until “proven” true.

The mission of the incoming administration is to unify a divided country, although most are skeptical about what this really means. A large part of this restoration lies in the hands of  media outlets which have great power to either fuel or bury fake news. To that end, media itself needs to rehabilitate its image and proactively increase the amount of trust it inspires. Within the PR and marcomms industry, now is the time to encourage consumers and brands to question bias rather than fact.

In a post-Trump media world, here are five recommendations brands should consider:

1. Promote a message of unity. Embrace a message of togetherness aligned to your brand’s mission. Without compromising the missions of hard-fought social justice movements, the need for unity is clear in the name of safety and healing.

2. Take action that matters. Brandsthat have established a stake in areas like sustainability or diversity and inclusion could see bigger opportunities to further their positioning in new and progressive ways. People are more personally involved in current events than in recent history, so the more your brands reflects what your consumers care about in the context of the business, the more brand loyalty will be earned.

3. Target your comms. The U.S. is facing one of the deepest political divides in its history. Therefore, the need for targeted communications has never been more important. President Trump received more votes in 2020 than he did four years ago. Marketers will now need to be more mindful of how they appeal to a polarized customer base. Consider whether your brand should try to appeal to everyone, or play to the favor of some.

4. Scale content moderation practices. Advertisers are highly exposed to changes made in Section 230 as a result of the presidential election. Because advertising has become inextricably linked to online platforms that are used to disseminate user-generated content, brands will need to evaluate how it may or will affect their brand strategy when it comes to online channels.

5. Build trust and be authentic. Millennials don’t buy a product simply because of a brand name the way boomers used to. The younger set don’t trust the media the way the boomers used to, either. Offering access to a brand mission through social media is just one way to build and manage trust in the long run.

The negative perception of media in all forms has waxed and waned throughout history. That’s old news. We are currently facing the task of restoring how people form opinions and conduct themselves based on the articles they read, or the ads they watch, or the podcasts they listen to. While toeing the apolitical line may come with its challenges, doing so strategically will better your brand and more.


Jennifer Risi is the Founder and President of The Sway Effect, a network of independent agencies.


One Response to “5 ways you can join the fight against ‘fake news’”

    Ronald N. Levy says:

    “Fight Fake News!” sounds like an admirable cause but before you have your CEO say that–or urge that people should “fight for freedom” or “fight for justice”–judge whether some people could call this an effort to incite a riot.

    When Trump urged listeners to march over to the capitol and fight for fair elections and such, he or his speech writer may have intended that people should fight verbally, not by rioting. He certainly didn’t say to riot or fight violently. More than half the 535 members of congress may have been elected after campaigns in which supporters urged the public to “fight” for what the candidates advocated.

    But the lesson from Washington is that if you have your chief urge people to fight for a cause, although even priests and the clergy of many faiths may urge congregants to “fight” for the unborn or for fairness to the poor, critics may claim that you were guilty of advocating violence.

    Are you protected if what you urge people to fight for seems clearly in the public interest? No. Trump supporters could claim that he was urging people to fight for fair elections, or fight to investigate election fairness, objectives which are admirable. But adversaries could contend that urging the public to “fight” for something is inciting violence and is not excused even if
    it is for a good cause and even if you just say to fight for a cause, not to fight violently.

    Is this hair-splitting? Yes. But hair-splitting is what lawyers do and what activists may do in an effort to show that they are right and you are wrong. Or worse, that you are criminally and civilly liable so your organization can be sued for damages!

    It could happen. Some would say this kind of thing is already happening.

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