News & Insights

5/09/2018

Why credible content is king againby Amanda Taylor


© AdobeStock / freshidea 

While not a commonly-used term two years ago, ‘fake news’ has become a frequent feature of Donald Trump’s conspiracy theories and topped Collins Dictionary’s 2017 list of words of the year.

In a short space of time, fake news has become one of the greatest threats to democracy and rational thought, and governments and consumers are increasingly demanding the mass media take steps to combat deliberate attempts to misinform.

Facebook has been grappling with its role in spreading fake news for many years, and is currently taking measures to delete one million fake accounts, as well as hiring independent third-party fact checkers. In recent weeks, Instagram, YouTube, Google + and Twitter have also suspended accounts after being caught up in a carefully co-ordinated Iranian misinformation campaign.

Lack of trust in social media

Fake news has caused a problem for both brands and the PR industry, because it undermines the credibility of the mass media and makes the content brands create more difficult to distinguish from the fake stuff. According to a recent study, Australians’ trust in the mass media is at an all-time low of just 31%.

However, when the figures are broken down, it’s not all bad news. While trust in social media is down to just 23%, confidence in traditional news media and journalism rebounded from 46% in 2017 to 61% in 2018. Trust in online news (excluding celebrity and investigative journalism) has also increased from 37% in 2017 to 43% in 2018.

What this means for the media, and brands

Consumers play a major role in the type of content that is created and these numbers show the pendulum is slowly swinging back towards quality, accurate and well-sourced information. Data from the Reuters Institute shows the average number of people paying for online news has increased in many countries. And while news sharing through messaging apps such as WhatsApp has edged up 4%, average news consumption on Facebook has declined 6% since 2016.

For the media,  an increase in the number of consumers who are prepared to pay for real news means more funds to invest in key resources, and for PR professionals, it provides opportunities to leverage relationships with credible journalists and influencers.

Increased support for reliable news sources could also bring greater control for brands around how their messages are delivered. Fake news travels fast and continually monitoring online news sources can be an expensive and time-consuming business.

While there is no way to entirely stem the flow of toxic content, there is evidence that consumers are demanding greater accuracy in reporting. This can only be a good thing for news outlets whose mandate is to truly inform and engage.

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