I recently read a piece in The Economist that got me thinking about fact checking and trust in the media and its commentators.
The 24 hour news cycle and the onslaught of digital and social media means stories are now written and news broken faster than ever before. However, as often debated, this has in some cases meant a dampening down of the quality of what we consume and the information used to compile these stories. And, now we have the issue of ‘fake and or alternative news’.
For years, Government, media and PRs were all able to present the side of the story they wanted their audiences to consume. One set of facts could be read in two different ways. The same figures could show two different stories. It didn’t mean a story was ‘fake’ or ‘alternative’ it just meant that it was presented in a way that fitted a certain agenda.
However, more and more we are seeing news which uses facts that are not just half the story they are simply not true. Some may argue that untruths can often be more interesting and simple to understand. This was certainly the case with the EU Referendum Leave campaign’s claim that the UK sends the EU £350m a week. A strong statement that stuck with both Remainers and Leavers. And, as this claim was then repeated it gained traction and became hard for people to ignore or dismiss. Yet once it is revealed this was an untruth people question all other facts that have been presented.
On a practical level some of this can be overcome by using fact checkers. Indeed Facebook has started to do this following the onslaught of fake news on its website. However, there is also an onus on communications professionals to really engage and work with media to make sure stories stand up to scrutiny and that trust is not eroded further.