2016 has been a year of surprises. Against all predictions, the UK voted to leave the European Union, Donald Trump will soon be President of the US, and Leicester City won the Premier League. But perhaps one thing that has been the biggest surprise of all in my opinion, and increasingly evident in our daily lives, is how people are choosing to source their news and using it to reinforce their existing beliefs rather than making their personal decisions on the basis of facts derived from reliable sources.
The ‘post truth’ world we now live in is the ‘new norm’. ‘Post truth’ is not a new phrase but came into prominence when Oxford Dictionaries made it 2016 word of the year, defining it as: ‘an adjective defined as relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.’
This judgement reflects the fact its usage rose 2000% compared to 2015, mainly in the backdrop of the EU referendum and the US presidential election. And technology platforms like Twitter have proven to being increasingly powerful in shaping public opinion in key world events.
Take Trump who used Twitter as a powerful channel to attack his enemies and repeatedly called not just his opponent ‘Crooked Hillary’ but constantly referred to well-known media houses such as CNN and the New York Times as distorted and biased.
And the tipping balance of news sources is spreading fear over this side of the pond. When addressing the German Reichstag just last week German Chancellor Merkel called for firm steps to be taken to stamp down on fake news online that can spread quickly. She observed ‘opinions today are formed differently to 25 years ago. Fake pages, bots and trolls can distort views’.
So as communications professionals what does this mean and how can we be prepared as we go into 2017 and beyond?
What’s for sure in my view is we need to think about 3 key things:
- As an industry call for platforms like Twitter and Facebook to get greater editorial control over content – especially as research reveals 62% of adults get their news this way
- Have effective monitoring systems in place for clients and be ready with strong rebuttal strategies when needing to counter false claims, and correct at source misleading information
- Consider paid advertising spending to counter fake news when necessary – yes it’s expensive but as the famous quote goes: “It takes a lifetime to build a reputation and only a few seconds to destroy one.”
So to conclude, as communications experts and influencers let’s do what we can to ensure that ‘post truth’ does not become the ‘new norm’. The integrity of our profession depends on it. Today, more than ever, the Power of True is badly needed.
Sara Turner, Associate Director, Technology