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The pivotal role of PR in a time of fake news

For many of us, consuming news has become a task as unconscious as breathing. On television, we watch live updates and interviews. At work, we stream content on our laptops and engage with newsletters from multiple platforms in our inboxes. In class, we discuss issues with our peers, formulating opinions, and responses to our surroundings. On our phones, we scroll past Covid-19 numbers updates on social media, as we watch recipe videos or share a funny meme.

Articles, quotes, and pictures are shared instantaneously, with little engagement – if it is good, bad or simply cute. The immediacy of our media consumption has resulted in a slowing down of fact-checking, corroboration, and common sense, meaning that a fake news post can spread quicker than credible breaking news stories.

The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research estimates that between two and five fake news stories related to Covid-19 are picked up each day. This is then widely disseminated on social media as fact. These stories, from the origins of the virus, through to unproven preventions and cures, are often then shared by governments, corporates and celebrities. When we unwittingly share misinformation as fact – we influence those around us.

How PR professionals can reduce the spread of fake news

The role of PR professionals in promoting brand image and building brand trust has risen in importance as more people consume their news on social media platforms. The immediacy of the platform has produced a culture of misinformation that comes with limited fact-checking and click-bait articles to drive web traffic.

The spread of misinformation drives home the importance of PR professionals preparing well-researched content, which is communicated to an audience receptive to accepting any content. By placing increased emphasis on fact-checking, we improve the value of our storytelling. Gaining audience trust through credible media exposure allows brands to build their reputation authentically. 

For many publications across the globe, media resources have been overwhelmed by Covid-19. Locally, the media landscape has seen the closure of numerous print media– Media24, Caxton,and Associated Media, this has resulted in a large number of retrenchments. Over and above a shortage of publications, remaining journalists are often overworked and pressed for time when it comes to finding stories and corroborating their sources. Now more than ever, PR professionals have the opportunity to act as a credible resource to news media. By maintaining a strong overall understanding and insight into the news cycle, we seek opportunities to position our clients in the centre of conversations that are meaningful to their audiences. While simultaneously providing journalists with contacts and experts that help strengthen their own storytelling.

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