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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Strategic CSR - Fake news

The article in the url below discusses the impact of 'fake news,' a term that it defines as follows:
"Fake news has a real meaning — deliberately constructed lies, in the form of news articles, meant to mislead the public. For example: The one falsely claiming that Pope Francis had endorsed Donald Trump, or the one alleging without basis that Hillary Clinton would be indicted just before the election."
Beyond this already broad meaning, however, the author argues that the use of this term has become distorted and is now used deliberately to obfuscate any story that the target does not like:
"… though the term hasn't been around long, its meaning already is lost. Faster than you could say 'Pizzagate,' the label has been co-opted to mean any number of completely different things: Liberal claptrap. Or opinion from left-of-center. Or simply anything in the realm of news that the observer doesn't like to hear. … Glenn Kessler, who writes The [Washington] Post's Fact Checker, put it this way: 'People seem to confuse reporting mistakes by established news organizations with obviously fraudulent news produced by Macedonian teenagers.'"
While the author's conclusion is that we should do away with this "rhetorical weapon" and, "Instead, call a lie a lie. Call a hoax a hoax. Call a conspiracy theory by its rightful name," my interest is the extent to which the fake news phenomenon has the potential to impact companies (rather than political or social discourse). If fake news can skew people's opinions to the point that it influences voting behavior, the same process could certainly influence consumers' purchase behavior. After all, a purchase is nothing more than a vote of confidence for a particular product or business model.
Companies have to walk a fine line on this issue. On the one hand, they need to be responsive to their key stakeholders (and social media enables this). On the other hand, not everyone who has a voice is necessarily a legitimate stakeholder or, perhaps more accurately, does not necessarily represent the collective interests of a key stakeholder group. In other words, just because someone has a voice and the drive to use it does not make their concern one that the firm needs to address. When that occurs, it is up to the firm's other stakeholders to make sure a lone voice does not distort the firm's decision-making processes and implement a policy that does not serve the interests of a broad range of stakeholders. While social media has grown to the point that it can drive the news (across all segments in society), the phenomenon of fake news reinforces the idea that the motivation to voice is not always 'helpful' or in the interests of the majority.
For more on this topic, the article in the second url below contains advice from "several crisis management executives" as to how firms should respond if they become the target of fake news.
Take care
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It's time to retire the tainted term 'fake news'
By Margaret Sullivan
January 8, 2017
The Washington Post
By Ben DiPietro
January 20, 2017
The Wall Street Journal