'As serious as a heart attack:' PR power players on fake news

And some think PR is powerless to stop it.

Kellyanne Conway, who coined the term ‘alternative facts’ at CPAC (Image via Wikimedia Commons, By Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56559966)
Kellyanne Conway, who coined the term ‘alternative facts’ at CPAC (Image via Wikimedia Commons, By Gage Skidmore, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=56559966)

It’s like cardiac arrest.

It’s like Bizarro World from Superman.

It’s propaganda, yellow journalism, and a virus that, according to some, PR is helpless to contain.

These are the ways some of PR’s heaviest hitters describe a phenomenon magnified by tech — fake news.

Here’s how Starbucks alum and incoming Salesforce chief communications officer Corey duBrowa diagnosed the situation:

"[It’s] serious as a heart attack. The industry should be more aggressively banding together with industry bodies (Page, PRSA) and academia to combat it at the professional level and prepare at the academic level."

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PR pros stressed the importance of having a set of rigorous professional standards, an adequate level of media literacy in the country, and collaboration across the media spectrum. They emphasized telling the truth, upholding credible media outlets, and outing those who spread misinformation.

"The industry needs to closely monitor where we work to place news and, even more importantly, where we pay to amplify news," says Jonathan Adashek, Nissan’s chief communications officer. "If it isn’t a credible source, we must stay away, no matter what impact it has on our metrics."

Some say it’s beyond PR’s brief. "Fake news is a huge problem which is beyond the resources of the industry to solve," says Finn Partners CEO Peter Finn.

Annabel Fox, MD in W Asia in Singapore, says, "No one has managed to legislate the internet in the same way as traditional media, so I think it’s time for government and digital companies (from social to search) to collectively come up with a solution. Interestingly, it seems like the ad-tech industry is leading the way, with AppNexus recently banning ads from appearing on right-wing site, Breitbart."

Molly Aldridge, global CEO of M&C Saatchi PR, pumps the brakes in her response to PRWeek’s questionnaire:

"It has always been there, from tea houses of old to the modern-day digital gossip across traditional and social media. Some fake news items are, of course, worse than others, depending on subject matter and focus. But as a general rule, the industry has better things to concern itself with."

Richard Edelman cuts through the noise on how the industry should address fake news: "Third-party attribution for all claims, and the relentless outing of those who put out fake news."

Some say solving fake news will require a superhero.

"I read comics and it’s like the Bizarro World, where Superman’s imperfect double does and says the opposite, and all the meanings are flipped," adds Tom Eslinger, global chief creative officer at Burson-Marsteller. "Marketing and communications needs to over-deliver on what our customers actually want – clear, honest messages about things that matter to them."

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