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Given the immense flood of disinformation currently bombarding social media, the ‘fake news’ phenomenon has reached such a depth that any organization – whether public or private – must take it into account in case it might affect them at any given time. If a false rumor is spread, the company should follow an in-place crisis protocol suitable for the circumstances, since fake news can undermine the company’s reputation. We’ll also delve into the way in which the ‘fake news’ can impact businesses and we will look at the key role that the Corporate Social Responsibility plays in this business venture:

Nowadays, we are living in a hyper connected society in which social media has inevitably changed not only the way in which we consume information online, but also how we interact with other people – known or unknown – on available social networks.

Therefore, the rapidity in which we give opinions and share material depends solely on a simple click, from a ‘Retweet’ to a ‘Like’, passing through a ‘Share.’ In this way, the simplicity to share a certain content is surprisingly high and effective in terms of dissemination.

This is a phenomenon that can cause publications to rapidly spread through social networks while easily damaging a corporate image to unsuspected limits. This is due to the fact that internet users usually give great importance to media information, even when it comes to disinformation with harmful intentions from third parties based on half-truths or falsehoods.

The Communication Department: Important Role in the Process

The Communication Department responsible for monitoring and managing the corporate reputation based on the knowledge of the intrinsic characteristics and goals set by the corresponding company’s management. In the communication process, a key component serves as the spokesperson: this role is filled by the office responsible for communicating the established plans or the possible changes occurring within the company in any area of its operation, or in response to any unforeseen situation.

Different Perspectives… Same Meaning

There is a widespread consensus among communication professionals that there exists a high probability for false news to be disseminated through the internet. However, even though the ‘fake news’ phenomenon is worrying, the awareness has not yet spread enough to lead to the implementation of a crisis management protocol in the case of an identity crisis: only four out of ten companies have tools at their disposal to manage a crisis situation. 

Tale a look at a compilation of quotes that provide clarity and analysis regarding the existing relationship between a company’s corporate image and its reflection in the media:

“Fake news spread at a speed seven times faster than true news.” 

Fernando Vives, President of the law firm Garrigues.

“Eight out of ten citizens believe that it is a generic problem for democracy.”

Eurobarometer, 2019.

“Fake news follows the same mechanics as rumors: they describe a fact likely to be real. Hence, they spread as long as they are not debunked.”

Ricardo Homs, President of the Mexican Academy of Communication.

Case Studies of Real Companies

As examples of companies that have already suffered the effects of the ‘fake news’ phenomenon, are these two major companies, like Coca Cola and Banco Sabadell. In the first case, the American multinational company of soft drinks suffered the spread of a hoax when a false news story emerged about the deaths of 8 people after consuming a Fanta allegedly containing muriatic acid. Similarly, the banking institution witnessed  the dissemination over Twitter of a news report that Sabadell had boarded up a house in Barcelona with three minors inside, an incident that the bank had to deny later.

Communicative Strategies to Deal with a Corporate Crisis

To mitigate or prevent fake news and avoid damage to a company’s corporate image, it’s required to establish a corporate strategy convening a Crisis Committee. Its task would be to deliver a clear, direct and authentic message to the audience that could slow down – or at least – alleviate the sense of confusion or falsehood typically generated by social media rumors. Next, the procedure to be followed in the event of activating a crisis protocol:

1st) Convening of a Crisis Committee, composed of the Communication Department, the Operations Department, and the person who is knowledgeable about the events.

2nd) Analysis of the situation to elaborate an action strategy. It is necessary to investigate where the news has been published, who the author is, which are the mentioned sources, if it has been disseminated by ‘bots’, and the speed at which it extends.

3rd) Appointment of a spokesperson or a representative to announce the measures taken through media outlets and social media, and to monitor the effects resulting from the spread of the rumor.

4th) If the fake news goes viral, a statement has to be prepared to deny the published information, together with a questionnaire for the spokesperson. Finally – given the appropriate case – a series of legal actions through criminal (or civil) proceedings should be addressed.

5th) Nevertheless, the so-called ‘Streisand Effect’ must be taken into account; it specifies that trying to find a remedy is worse than accepting the disease when a false rumor has little follow-up or poor visibility.