By Lizzie Woolley

‘Fake news’, or ‘alternative facts’, are terms that have become increasingly familiar in recent months since Donald Trump became President of the United States. The infamous debate over attendance numbers at his inauguration, and the backlash following his claim that there had been a terror attack in Sweden, have played a role in his controversial decision not to attend the recent White House Correspondent’s Dinner. Despite it being a constant source of entertainment for the press, ‘fake news’ is also having an impact on businesses in the UK.

Last week a video appeared on Facebook which quickly went viral. It showed a female cyclist in London being insulted by men in a van. One man asks for her number and tries to grab her before driving off. The cyclist, enraged by their behaviour, follows them and rips off their wing mirror. The video gained a huge amount of coverage in support for the cyclist, before it transpired that the video had actually been staged.

This wouldn’t have been much of an issue if the video hadn’t had come from media agency, Jungle Creations, which specialises in creating online viral videos. It denies that it created this particular film, which was subsequently picked up by The Daily Mail, The Sun, The Independent and The Metro. However the implications have consequently damaged that company’s reputation as a professional and respectable media agency.

In 2015, Fuel PR issued a “real life” case study to promote an antiperspirant brand. However, it was soon revealed that the subject was actually an employee of the PR agency. As a result, the company had to apologise to and refund a number of national newspapers as well as being expelled by the PRCA.

In addition to this, in November 2016, French construction firm Vinci became the subject of a hoax press release which stated that its CFO had been sacked and it would be restating its financial statements for 2015 and the first half of 2016.

PR is about issuing news which is factual, be it good or bad, and building a strong relationship with the press relies on that. In the PRCA code of conduct there is a clause which states PR must “have a positive duty at all times, to respect the truth and shall not disseminate false or misleading information knowingly or recklessly, and to use proper care to avoid doing so inadvertently.”

The above companies did not adhere to these rules, generated ‘fake news’, and as a result created a huge amount of damage to the companies that issued the releases and the brands they represented.

So, what advice would I offer to companies and agencies that are concerned about falling into the fake news trap.

  • Check your facts – Make sure that what you are writing is truthful and it has come from a reputable source
  • Use a professional – Enlist the help of an agency who have are experienced in media management

The ‘alternative fact’ or ‘fake news’ era is difficult and can be damaging. I believe that through remaining vigilant and enlisting the help of an industry professional you will be able to avoid becoming the next casualty.

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