Fake news, a real societal phenomenon
24 Sep, 2019
They are called “fake news”, “rumours” or “intox”.
But what is a “fake news”: “Fake news, or intox, false information or false news, is false information delivered in order to manipulate or deceive an audience”.
Fake news has always been omnipresent in the world of politics, particularly since the 2016 American presidential election. Misinformation and counter-information have always been recurrent practices in the political world, “to govern is to make people believe”, wrote Machiavelli five hundred years ago.
Today, they are everywhere, whether in parody, lies, misuse of context, manipulation or simply inventions. They are part of our daily lives and it is a daily challenge to be able to overcome them.
But what about the impact on brands?
And in the business world, what does it look like? In the age of social networks, false information spreads faster, according to researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), real information takes six times longer than false information to reach 1,500 people according to their analyses.
Fake news has become a real topic in our daily lives, on social networks, in the media and in the corporate world.
Here is a quick overview with some examples from the advertiser:
Starbucks was the victim of the fake “Dreamer Day”, where the company promised to offer drinks in its establishments to undocumented people smuggling into the United States.
To better fool consumers, we can notice that the visual – or rather the photomontage – that accompanied the tweet used the usual brand codes: logo, typography, colours and use of the #Borderfreecoffee hashtag.
Following numerous reactions from Internet users, the American group tried to react by explaining that the group did not offer coffee to undocumented migrants.
While the controversy lasted only a few hours, it was widely reported on social networks.
Then, it was Netflix‘s turn last February to face the rumours.
The streaming platform is accused of contacting a subscriber who has watched 188 episodes of his favorite series for a week, or 10 hours of viewing per day! The company immediately sent a denial: “Netflix does not take the initiative to contact its users to check that they are doing well based on their consumption habits”. As in the political arena, these ideas will spread very quickly and it may be difficult to identify the individuals who caused them.
Let’s also take the case of the Ferrero group’s Nutella company, you have certainly all heard from far or near the famous price reduction on Nutella’s pots: -70%, it must be said that it is tempting…
This news had created a real riot in the stores and some jostling had been published on social networks by customers. The “fakeurs” jumped on the occasion of this craze to announce that Ferrero recalls 625,000 jars of Nutella contaminated with Lactalis milk and that the buyers of these jars will have to return everything: “those of you who have managed to benefit from the Nutella promotion will have to return everything”, according to an article widely shared on Facebook.
The Ferrero group officially denied the rumour via its official Facebook and Twitter accounts. The article in question was published on a site called Secret news.
However, it is enough to scroll down the page of the article to read: “All the information on this site is satirical and/or parodic”.
The American beauty store chain Ulta Beauty was also confronted with “Fake news”. Indeed, one site published a false report explaining that the group’s stores would close after its takeover by Sephora and that all products would be sold off. This is indeed false information, the article was shared via Facebook more than 96,000 times before the group reacted and prevented the rumor from spreading further. We let you imagine the faces of the people who were treated to this unpleasant surprise when they arrived in front of the store, convinced to do the job of the century…
Here, it is North Face‘s turn to “hack” Wikipedia and face a real bad buzz. In April, the famous brand unveiled a promotional video entitled “Top of Images”. The initial idea is quite clear: when you look for a travel destination, our first reflex is to search it on Google. Once the search is done, you go to “Images” in the search engine to find out more about the chosen location. Most often, the first photo appearing in the images comes from the online encyclopedia Wikipedia.
The brand has published the Wikipedia page of many trekking and adventure destinations, replacing the existing photos on the site with images taken in the same places, but highlighting The North Face products. The American label has produced its own promotional visuals, uploaded them to some Wikipedia pages, in order to be at the top of Google’s search results.
However, this idea has not had the expected results: The North Face disrespects both consumers and the millions of anonymous people who give their time to constantly improve Wikipedia. The moderators have deleted all the clichés of the brand. An organization directly linked to the online encyclopedia commented on this operation: “Putting online content whose sole purpose is to promote a company or its products is contrary to the spirit, purpose and rules of Wikipedia. We have always sought to offer neutral and sourced information to the world. The North Face has just proved again that large corporations have absolutely no qualms about manipulating the general public.”
Or when the reactions to fake news have become so epidermal that you can’t play them.
In these many cases, we can ask ourselves: do fake news have an impact on a company’s turnover? When should we react? And what are the means to be used to prevent the rumour from spreading too quickly? Should a company react or simply be silent?
As we can see, fakes news can take different forms: relayed in articles, images or videos designed by specialized sites… then add to that social networks where rumors very quickly take on an important dimension.
For the advertiser, it would seem that the most effective solution to fight against fake news is first of all to make a formal denial. Timing is very important: it is essential not to let the rumour spread, so you have to react quickly!
How to protect yourself against fake news?
Social networks are fighting today and more than ever against this type of information.
A few months ago, Facebook deleted several pages of propaganda related to Iran and Israel. Indeed, the platform closed 265 Facebook and Instagram pages for misinformation on this subject. This movement from Israel is said to have subsequently spread to Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, Angola, Niger, Tunisia, as well as Latin America and South-East Asia.
According to the social network, the responsible organization allegedly used fake accounts to distribute content with misinformation. Facebook has successfully dismantled this network called Archimedes.
The latter is obviously banned from the social network. She reportedly spent up to €726,000 on Facebook ads paid in Israeli shekels and US dollars.
To protect itself from this rise of false rumours, Twitter announces the acquisition of the British start-up Fabula AI, a company that develops artificial intelligence algorithms capable of identifying false information distributed on social networks.
For the social platform, the purpose of this purchase is to make progress in sorting the information on the platform. The company says it wants to “improve the quality of the conversation” and “help people feel safe on Twitter”.
Politicians often exposed to this kind of controversy have passed a bill against “manipulation of information” during elections. This law allows a candidate or party to bring an action before the judge in summary proceedings to stop the dissemination of false information. The proposals in this law also impose transparency obligations on the various digital platforms (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) when they broadcast content for a fee.
Even if this law does not suit all elected officials and is therefore much talked about, many people are convinced that it is essential today to regulate fake news. False information has recently multiplied on social networks since the beginning of the yellow vest movement….
Americans are more exposed to the extent of this misinformation.
To deal with this, some American companies have taken steps to do so. Many companies specialized in e-reputation in the United States are gradually emerging as Storyful or Weber Shandwick, specialized in crisis management. One of the most emblematic recent examples is Breibart News, the site launched by Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s former advisor.
Thus, we can wonder about the evolution of fake news, especially in France, which is still more reluctant to manage this type of rumour: an ephemeral societal phenomenon or a real long-term virus?
Are the companies that support the management of fake news also likely to develop more in France?
Is the solution in education, such as courses that would learn to separate fake news from real information?
To be continued.