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How to Use PR to Tackle Disinformation

by | Mar 23, 2021

It’s nothing new. The threat of misinformation and disinformation has made the headlines the last few years. And although false propaganda has been around for centuries, if not longer, it has become an even more substantial threat in today’s digitalized world. Fake websites can seem credible. Anonymous online sources can appear trustworthy; even news agencies can push false narratives.

Whether it be online or any other form of media, all the information we consume can be subject to disinformation. As a consumer, it can be discerning to find which information is accurate, which is misleading, and which is straight disinformation. However, it should not be the consumers’ sole job to sift through the lies and get to the facts. PR teams can help make that task far less tedious to ensure the information consumers read is credible and trustworthy. Here is how you can use PR to tackle the threat of disinformation:

The Problem

In today’s society, disinformation has become a growing cause of concern. According to a 2020 report by the Institute of Public Relations, they found that 61% of Americans viewed misinformation, and 58% viewed disinformation as a critical issue today. Disinformation has become such a rampant concern that it has changed the way people view and consume their news. Sadly, many individuals are hesitant or may even avoid watching the news altogether because they are afraid it contains misinformation.

The misinformation frenzy has put a significant stigma on US news outlets and brands and could prove detrimental in the long-term if not addressed. About 24% of those surveyed in the Institute of Public Relations study say they read news sources from outside the US to avoid misinformation. For US citizens to regain trust in domestic news outlets, there must be a monumental push to suppress the threat of disinformation.

Changing the public perception and regaining trust in our news agencies is a massive undertaking. It will not happen overnight and will take a significant amount of time and resources to be successful. Fortunately, there are ways we can address the misinformation issue today. If more and more companies utilize mitigation efforts, we can get back on track on regaining the public’s trust.

How PR Professionals Can Mitigate the Spread of Misinformation

One of the main problems of misinformation is it spreads like wildfire. Especially when it comes to digital media, online echo chambers amplify disinformation incredibly fast. There could be dozens of false claims and accusations circulating online before the legitimate fact is released. What makes disinformation often so enticing is it appeals to a person’s belief system. Regardless if the information is accurate, many people will view it as factual if it fits their opinions. And because it suits their beliefs or opinions, they are far less likely to read alternative sources that dispute the claim.

Now, there are ways for PR professionals to mitigate the spread of misinformation and disinformation. PR Professionals MUST always be proactive with their news monitoring. It is crucial to find any false or misleading claims about your agency, client, or industry, then take swift actions to suppress them. It requires real-time listening and monitoring, as well as transparency and extensive communication infrastructure.

It is paramount to prepare your PR team and plan extensively to mitigate the threat of misinformation. There are multiple avenues to approach mitigation efforts. For one, pre-bunking disinformation is critical. You can do that by establishing a community of trust by only sharing fact-checked information and building relationships with trusted third parties or community leaders. Likewise, creating clear and consistent messaging can help protect your company from any threats of disinformation. And lastly, you want to proactively debunk any disinformation with statistics and insights from reliable sources. 

Never Lose Sight of PR Ethics and Values

Limiting the spread of disinformation can be incredibly difficult. And now that digital media is everywhere in our modern lives, the threat of disinformation will always remain and will probably become an even more substantial concern in the future. Combatting false information can be daunting. However, you should never lose sight of the importance of PR ethics and values. PR specialists serve the public interest by acting as responsible advocates for those we represent. Our foremost goal is to ensure the general public can make informed decisions from the information we provide.

Regardless if you are a medium-sized agency, local business, or a Fortune 500 company, your business can fall victim to misinformation and disinformation. You must always remain committed to your brand and mission, and proactively seek to mitigate any fake news efforts. Through these mitigation efforts, you can establish yourself as a trustworthy and credible source that your audience loves. Ultimately, your brand should always remain synonymous with honesty and integrity.

Truth Begets Trust

The best way to gain trust is to tell the truth. Building trust can be difficult when facing misinformation and disinformation. But, with the correct set of proactive measures in place, you can stomp out the threat of false information and portray credibility. Misinformation will unquestionably remain a mainstay for years to come. However, you can do your part to suppress that threat and build that all-important trust factor with your audience. 

As PR professionals at Nichols, we fully understand the importance of ethics and values with public relations and the commitment to ensuring public trust. Our core focus is ensuring brands portray themselves in the best light possible so they can build, maintain, and regain professional relationships.

If you would like to learn more, let’s talk. Send me a note at mbakle@wetellyourstory.com. Or, give us a call at (260)-422-6800.

Maggie Bakle - PR Specialist
Smart, experienced and extremely dedicated to her clients, Maggie Bakle is a strong believer in the power of PR. A Fort Wayne native, she holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism at Indiana University and a master’s degree in public relations at Michigan State University. Before joining Nichols in 2017, she earned valuable experience in public relations and using social media to promote clients during a stint with another Fort Wayne agency. She’s also a member of the Public Relations Society of America.

Her level of experience, knowledge and expertise makes her a force to be reckoned with in the Fort Wayne market, a place she believes is positioned to become a real powerhouse in the Midwest.

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