Why fake news matters and what you can do

It has been derided by the leader of the free world and accused of influencing elections, but ‘fake news’ is today legitimate news as it has been named Collins’ Word of the Year 2017.

The word has seen an unprecedented increase of use – up 365% since 2016.

Wow. In this article I’m going to examine what it is, what it means for organisations and what it means for us as internal communication practitioners.

As ever, I’d love to know your thoughts. Do Tweet me @AllthingsIC or comment below with your views on this topic.

Grab a brew, it’s a long read…


As defined by Collins, ‘fake news’ means “false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting.”

Now we have 280 character Tweets, will this trigger a change in behaviour as people can wax lyrical?

Further reading on the All Things IC blog: Get a reality check on fake news.

What is fake news?

Fake news is false information which has been crafted and shared, usually for a purpose. Perhaps to persuade you to believe something about a person or influence you to behave in a certain way.

Fake news websites (also referred to as hoax news) deliberately publish hoaxes, propaganda and disinformation — using social media to drive web traffic and amplify their effect.

Unverified news hasn’t been checked to say whether it’s true or false. It means sources haven’t been checked (verified) yet.

Further reading on the All Things IC blog: Bust the jargon with my glossary of internal communication.

The shortlist

Ten words made the Collins Language 2017 Word of the Year shortlist, they are words that have emerged or come to prominence during the course of the year:

Antifa: noun: (1) a antifascist organisation (2) a member of a antifascist organisation adjective: (3) involving, belonging to, or relating to a antifascist organisation.

Corbynmania: noun: fervent enthusiasm for Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the UK Labour Party.

Cuffing season: noun: the period of autumn and winter, when single people are considered likely to seek settled relationships rather than engage in casual affairs.

Echo chamber: noun: an environment, especially on a social media site, in which any statement of opinion is likely to be greeted with approval because it will only be read or heard by people who hold similar views.

Fidget spinner: noun: a small toy comprising two or three prongs arranged around a central bearing, designed to be spun by the fingers as means of improving concentration or relieving stress.

Gender-fluid: adjective: not identifying exclusively with one gender rather than another.

Gig economy: noun: an economy in which there are few permanent employees and most jobs are assigned to temporary or freelance workers.

Insta: adjective: of or relating to the photo-sharing application Instagram.

Unicorn: noun: (1) an imaginary creature depicted as a white horse with one long spiralled horn growing from its forehead, regarded as symbol of innocence and purity (2) a recently launched business enterprise that is valued at more than one billion dollars.

Have you used any of these words in your internal communication this year?

Let’s stick with fake news and dig a bit deeper.

When did fake news start?

Writing on his personal blog, Ketchum’s Stephen Waddington @wadds (pictured) says: “You can trace the history of fake news in the public relations business from Edward Bernays in the 1900s to Max Clifford in the 1980s. More recently from the Iraq War dodgy dossier in the early noughties, to campaigning during last year’s UK Referendum and US Election.

“The term has become a catch-all phrase to cover a range of content from stories that are completely made up, to blatant propaganda.”

Stephen created a draft framework to tackle fake news. It highlights the role employees can play. He says:

“Everyone in an organisation has a role in helping counter a fake news attack. Employees are frequently an organisation’s most powerful reputational asset. Share content far and wide and encourage employees to use their own networks.”

What are you doing to tackle fake news in your organisation? How do you verify content?

In January 2017 I was featured in IC Kollectif’s What IC needs in 2017 series and said:

“With fake news on the rise, our role is more important than ever to encourage organisations to create a new code of ethics for employees. The IC profession needs to rise to these challenges, pool resources and commit to the highest levels of transparency” – Rachel Miller

As we head to the end of this year, it makes me wonder – are we there yet? I know my answer. What’s yours?

The topic of ethics has been noisier this year than in recent memory, and I welcome that. I passed my Chartered PR assessment with the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) earlier this year and a core part of that standard is to demonstrate ethical behaviour and understanding of required practice.

Unsurprisingly, fake news has no place within the role of a modern communication practitioner.

The future of fake news

Unfortunately it looks like fake news is set to stay. Did you see the Obama video a few months back?

The Guardian wrote: Don’t believe everything you read, see or hear and highlighted the video I’ve embedded below. It’s eight minutes long, do skip to 3.30min to see the result of the doctored content. It’s quite something.

What fake news have you seen?

Fake news nurse

This week I spotted Macmillan Cancer Support has revealed they have employed a Digital Nurse Specialist aka the “fake news nurse” to combat fake news online.

The charity says it is concerned patients are turning to unverified sites for information which could leave them ‘needlessly frightened’ and at risk of ‘bogus cures’ for cancer.

Ellen McPake is solely dedicated to answering questions from people affected by cancer online, on Macmillan’s social media platforms and the charity’s Online Community.

A spokesperson said: “We’ve created the role in response to a growing demand for online information about cancer diagnosis and treatment. We’re also concerned that patients are coming away from appointments without the information they need and are turning to unverified internet sites, leaving them needlessly frightened and at risk of bogus cures.

“For example, one internet search brings up a website which says chemotherapy is a bigger killer than cancer itself whilst another site reports that baking soda can cure breast cancer.”

Ellen says: “As more and more people seek information about their cancer online, we want them to know that charities like Macmillan are able to offer reliable health advice. In my new role, I’m there to make sure people affected by cancer have a real person they can turn to online for information about their symptoms, cancer diagnosis and treatment.”

A solution to fake news, what a smart move from Macmillan Cancer Support.

Do we need this sort of role in internal communication? You could argue it’s our whole job! We need to be fact checkers, truth tellers and clarity champions.

What does fake news mean for internal communication?

In January I asked Institute of Internal Communication President Suzanne Peck her thoughts on fake news.

She told me: “Fake news strikes a foundation stone in internal communications – that of truth. Be sceptical of things that just don’t sound right; only share content from sources that you know are good and true; and care about evidence and accuracy.”

You could argue all communication is subject to interpretation. Therefore increasing the chance of untruth being spread as truth via exaggeration or misinterpretation of intention/message.

What do you think?

The death of patience

Earlier this year I wrote about the death of patience and why you need to pause. This was in relation to the rumours and speculation surround the death of Prince Philip, which were wholly inaccurate.

But in their rush to be first with the news, some newspapers chose to declare he was dead rather than wait for verification. In fact, at the grand old age of 95, he was stepping down from public duties.

The death of patience and why you need to pause…

Focusing on the inside

At last week’s CIPR Inside annual IC conference I was struck by a comment by the fabulous Danielle Chan of Community Integrated Care. She said:

If we have fake news inside our organisations, what do you think that does to our employee brand? To employee experience and engagement?

I think fake news includes: rumours, untruths, lies, spin, propaganda and inauthentic communication.

I regularly audit companies to help them understand how communication happens inside their organisation.

I’m on the hunt for the truth.

I want to know what’s trusted. I want to know what’s fake. I’m on the search for a single source of truth (if there is one) and I want to understand the impact inauthentic communication has on morale and communication.

My view?

Toxic cultures are underpinned by falseness.

You can feel it, it’s tangible. If there is an integrity gap between what you say and what you do, you’re fooling no one, least of all your employees.

“Employees are our greatest assets” – really? How do you demonstrate that? How do you shift from words on a mug to values and demonstrable results?

Experience the inner workings

This whole topic fascinates me and I consider it a privilege to be invited to experience the inner workings of organisations to help them search out the truth, bust through false and fake news, and provide an accurate picture of how communication happens.

To audit means to listen, and that’s the approach I take to map perceptions and realities and give All Things IC’s clients a comprehensive overview of their organisation.

You can probably tell how much I love it!

I mentioned trust because for me it goes hand-in-hand with authentic, credible, reliable and accurate information and internal communication.

If I don’t trust you, why should I believe you?

If your employees don’t trust your leaders, why should they believe them?

If you want to read more about trust, check out these articles via my blog:

I’d love to know your thoughts on these topics. As ever, you’re welcome to comment below or you can find me on Twitter @AllthingsIC.

Got a story to share about how you’re tackling fake news in your organisation? Do please let me know.

Thank you for stopping by,

Post author: Rachel Miller

Come and learn more about internal communication with me:

First published on the All Things IC blog 8 November 2017.

Word of the year picture credits: Collins. First published on the All Things IC blog 8 November 2017.First published on the All Things IC blog 8 November 2017.SaveSave



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