News, fake news and statistics

What’s more important to you? Truth or appearances?

Man holding a burning newspaper with overlaid text saying 'Breaking News'
Image from Sunday Assembly Plymouth about fake news

It’s a question which seems to be becoming increasingly relevant recently. Accusations of fake news are travelling across the world and are even becoming a bit of an art form.

So in a world where anything can appear credible, why should people trust you?

It can be argued that nowadays everyone is a broadcaster; we all have the opportunity to become influencers and freedom of speech gives us the right to share our thoughts. While this may be the case, it doesn’t mean that we are all influencers and that people will listen to what we have to say. In order for people to sit up and take notice, you need to have some credibility.

This credibility can come from all kinds of areas – lived experience, education, or research, for example.  However, in this digital age, it seems that credibility is easily claimed, believed, and spread, putting us all at risk of believing facts which are anything but.

In order to be heard above the noise, you need to become the authority that people trust, and this takes time. Regular information demonstrating your knowledge of the field, sharing your insights, revealing how you came to your decisions and opinions.

With a world interested in scrolling, snippets, and snapshots, this depth can be difficult to demonstrate, but you can also use this need for fast information to your advantage.

Get to know your audience, build a rapport with them, let them know you’re an expert by sharing pieces of information. Then, when the moment comes and you are the expert people need to listen to, you’re already in that position of trust and what you say will carry the impetus you want it to have (and people may even be willing to pay attention for longer).

And who should you trust?

You probably already have sources you trust – your favourite media outlet, that friend who loves cooking and knows how to save any kitchen disaster, your GP. They all have their areas of expertise which you rely on. Treat new sources in the same way:

  • Check out their credentials – why are they qualified to talk about this subject?
  • Check the source – where is the information coming from? Who’s funding it, and who’s going to benefit?
  • Do your research – if it sounds odd, check with another source or find someone who can verify it for you (I’m a big fan of www.snopes.com)

There’s a more in depth checklist from factcheck.org.

What about those statistics?

The numbers never lie, right? Wrong. Even if the numbers are correct, there are many ways in which they can be misinterpreted or misrepresented (there are lots of examples in this piece from data analytics specialists datapine).

Treat them as you would any other resource – don’t rely on headlines, look for the original data if possible and think about who stands to gain from the results.

It’s down to you

While tech companies and media outlets are coming under closer scrutiny, the huge amount of news and information out there means we’re all going to have to be on the look-out if we want to be sure of the accuracy of our information.

An excellent guide written by Sarah Waddington of #FuturePRoof sets out why it is so important for PR professionals to be aware of the dangers of false information (whether intentional or otherwise) as well as some great resources anyone can use to verify sources they come across.

If you’re a spokesperson for your business or organisation, start building that trust with the people you want to listen to you; be genuine, be helpful, be honest.

*****************************************************

I gave a talk about fake news and how to check your sources to the lovely people at Sunday Assembly Plymouth (they also allowed me to use the amazing image on this page) – you can watch that video here:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.