06 Mar 2017

Fake news took on new life in the 2016 presidential election—campaigns were damaged by fake stories while at other times they used claims of fake news in an effort to discredit legit reports. Aside from politics, it’s important for brands to realize that fake news can pose a very serious threat to an organization, and the technology to create fake news is getting scary powerful.

On Valentine’s Day, reporters at USA Today received a fake press release claiming one fast food giant was trying to acquire another. “Formatted convincingly, the dubious release used business language, mirrored the typical structure of a corporate merger announcement and was portrayed as a filing to be submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission,” USA Today reported. Furthermore, the release was falsely branded as coming from a major press release wire service.


It may only get worse. Consider this research by Stanford University, Max Planck Institute for Informatics and the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. It’s possible to manipulate videos in real time, like changing the facial expressions of a person. That’s cool technology but scary at the same time.

What can an organization do?

  • It is critical to have social media and media relations experts monitor what is being said about your company and brands, every day. News, real and fake, spreads like wildfire on social media. The faster you learn about a fake report, the faster you can respond.
  • Have a PR team ready to move quickly. Like with any crisis management planning, top executives and the legal team should be involved in advanced preparations and putting procedures in place.
  • A proactive, ongoing PR effort helps protect you. Having an active, online newsroom with official press releases and media contacts helps journalists and others validate what’s real. A company with no press releases and inactive or no social media is more vulnerable to fake news.
  • Build relationships with the media and manage your social media community. USA Today smartly contacted the fast food chains, and both companies had PR teams that quickly set the record straight. A firm with no PR team may not respond quickly or effectively in such a situation.

Americans need to become smarter consumers of media, but this is not something brands can control. Brands can put together a smart PR and social team. PR is not solely for increasing positive exposure. It’s also about protecting reputation in an increasingly dangerous information world.