The focus on fake news’ impact almost exclusively on politics might lead some to disregard it as irrelevant. But recent events are revealing that fake news can be weaponized against far more than politics—a new analysis of social media criticism of Star Wars: The Last Jedi found that more than half of negative content came from Russian troll and bot accounts on Twitter. Communications professionals in all industries are facing new challenges to maintaining credibility and the strength of their brands, but a survey of European operators discovered they don’t all view the issue in the same way.
The 2018 European Communication Monitor (ECM) collected data from 3,096 surveyed communication professionals in 48 European countries. Questions covered a range of factors in fake news, including its relevance, potential exposure to it, what kinds of fake news exist, and how it should be dealt with. Researchers found that a 65.5% majority of respondents paid close attention to the issue of fake news in Europe. However, only a quarter said that it had daily relevance to their work. More troubling was the mere 12.3% who said that dealing with fake news was an important issue for communication managers, belying the admission that a fourth of respondents’ organizations had already been affected by fake news. Overall, nearly 20% of respondent organizations said that being prepared to identify possible fake news is not necessary.
These perceptions are likely colored by the public focus and previous impact of fake news in the last few years. 27% of respondents from governmental organizations reported they had been affected by fake news multiple times, while only 10% from private consultancies and agencies said the same. This is reflected in the divide between those who find it relevant to their daily work: 32% of respondents from government organizations versus 19% from private companies. The study also found a connection between age groups and how the fake news issue is perceived. People aged 50 or older were most likely to say they had given attention to the fake news debate, while those 29 and younger were the opposite—but this relationship was reversed when it came to acknowledging the influence of fake news on the public sphere.
Fake news is already spreading beyond realm of politics to tarnish and attack private businesses and brands, and the bedrock of trust that underpins all messaging in our mass-communication society. Those who have already been the victims of fake news will need to step up and make others alert to the real risks that are being brought against them, while older and younger professionals must find a way to share with each other their understandings of the importance of fake news.
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