It’s like we went to sleep in late 2016 and woke up with a post-election, New Years, fake news, post-truth hangover.
Before, we generally believed in the sanctity of truth and reason. Now nothing seems real, and it is hard to know what to hold onto.
Much of this tracks back to the growing role of tech in our lives. Josh Quittner of Flipboard wrote about our loss of innocence, in the story The Truth about Fake News:
When Wikipedia started to take off… I believed that finally, the world was racing toward one, glorious kumbaya moment. With the Internet being driven to every corner of the globe — and one Wikipedia for all — at last we would have a universally agreed upon baseline for Truth.
But so far, it hasn’t turned out that way. In fact, for months now it’s felt like we’re living in a hellish, ranting, Tower of Babel, with no one speaking the same ideological language and each of us in near-violent disagreement. One can find “evidence” of any theory one wants online. The Truth is more elusive than ever.
The NY Times wrote that we can’t even agree on the basic definitions of words.
It was inevitable, I guess, that PR got caught in the fray. Some have said that the profession contributes to the fake news problem. Marketers are accusing competitors of post-truth PR claims.
The sad state of affairs presents a number of challenges for PR. How do we build trust, validation, and visibility through the press when media trust is at a record low? What do PR pros do when the client or manager wants to spew some of their own fake news or accuses others of the same?
The mess is bigger than PR. We can’t fix it, but we can and should do our part. I thought I’d offer the following tips:
- We’re all news consumers too. Be responsible ones – don’t spread fake news. If you see something, say something: friends don’t let friends spread misinformation (to use two clichés).
- Adhere to highest ethical standards. There will always be bad actors in marketing, the Trumpian brawlers who want to win at any cost. It’s unfortunate if they are your boss or client. You alone can decide if you want to work in that kind of environment. See my post: Above the FUD: Keeping PR Clean when the PR Gets Dirty.
- Ratchet back the hype – It was never a good idea to inflate claims. Make sure the news you promote is accurate and pristine.
- We can help with fact-checking reporters and clients. Look up sources. Validate data. The better PR pros are already doing this – it is not too late to start.
- Do yourself and the field a favor. Educate about PR. Let people know that it does not equal propaganda or fake news (in this post I propose a definition of the latter).