Allison Symonds

Five Ways PR Pros Can Combat Fake News

By: Allison Symonds | January 23, 2017 | 

Five Ways PR Can Combat Fake NewsElection season has come and (thankfully) gone, but the threat of fake news is still very real.

U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper warns that fake news is “a grave concern” to national security, but the problem reaches beyond politics and into media and culture.

Pardon the doom and gloom, but the possibility of a “post-factual world” should be setting off supersonic alarm bells for PR pros in every industry.

Before social media, fake news was mostly a nonstarter.

Agenda-driven reporting is nothing new, but slander laws and ethics standards generally protected us from outright untruths.

In fact, fake news mostly meant satire, and misunderstandings were usually funny—such as how Chinese media outlets quoted an Onion article declaring Kim Jong Un the “Sexiest Man Alive in 2012.

We’re not laughing anymore.

In early December, a man carrying an assault rifle walked into a family-friendly pizzeria in Washington D.C. and fired shots.

He was there to “self-investigate” a conspiracy theory that accused Hillary Clinton and her campaign manager, John Podesta, of running a child sex slave operation out of the pizzeria.

Instigated by a false news article, the story had spread through social media .

The restaurant’s owner, its employees, and even their children had already been subjected to death threats and online harassment before the incident.

The PR Response to Fake News

So what can PR pros do?

How can we protect a neighborhood pizza shop whose online reviews include accusations such as,

They rape children


Shady cover up going on here. INVESTIGATE. AND INVESTIGATE. AND INVESTIGATE. shut em down ppl!

The boom in fake news sites has stupefied traditional media.

It’s also created a whole new kind of brand disaster—one beyond the experience of even seasoned crisis managers.

PR Responses to Fake News

The PR remedy to fake news is still evolving, but you can count on a few key strategies to safeguard you and your organizations.

  • Recognize trust in the media is at a record low, and it’s getting lower. Ensure your organizations are represented honestly and transparently in traditional outlets, but don’t stop there. Be prepared to argue your case in other ways, including through social media and community advocates.
  • Be vigilant in monitoring your social media and online presence. Set up Google alerts, filter Facebook comments, or bring in a third-party to track movement 24/7. When a false story is written, time is of the essence. Contact legitimate media outlets, and ensure them existing customers know the story is false. Alert news aggregators and curators such a Google, Twitter and Facebook, that are under increasing pressure to stop fake news.
  • Work only with legitimate news sources. Trying to benefit from fake news sites will certainly come around to bite you in the rear end.
  • Don’t participate in the sharing or spreading of fake news. This applies to both your business and your personal life. It reflects poorly on you and your brand—and it’s also just plain bad juju.
  • Don’t feed the trolls.

Fake news is our new reality, and addressing it should be part of any comprehensive PR or crisis management plan.

These five strategies should be your jumping off point, but don’t stop here.

Fake news is a new beast, so keep an eye out for case studies, blogs and articles with more information in the future.

Unfortunately, you never know who will be the next victim.

About Allison Symonds

Allison Symonds is a PR Associate and Content Specialist at A.wordsmith, a boutique PR firm in Portland, Oregon that specializes in thought leadership and brand storytelling. Allison guides both B2B and consumer clients in thought-ware content strategy, media outreach, and the written word. She recently co-authored 100 Things to Do in Portland, OR Before You Die,, which explores some of the city's most notable, notorious, and unique hot spots.

  • It’s not only imperative to be prepared as a PR pro, but also to be ahead of trends and anticipate.

  • paulakiger

    Great points!

  • If you ever saw the 2003 movie ‘The Yes Men’, these were guys in my opinion who did fake news well and for the benefit of society. However, as you say today theres really no benefit to fake news it really is a problem, and to think of that poor pizzeria, what they have been through really is traumatic. Nevertheless its great to see a post highlighting the problem and giving some strategies to combat this very ‘post truth’ dilemma.

    • Allison Symonds

      I’ve never seen ‘The Yes Men,’ I’ll have to track it down!

      I agree that while there is a very occasionally a place for concealment (to protect victims of crimes or defend whistleblowers, for example), there really is no legitimate use for fake news in the business or political arena today. Larger brands may be able to ride out the storm in these cases, but my heart goes out to the small and midsize businesses that have been victims of fake news.

      • Track it down, its very entertaining and pretty scary at the same time.

        Absolutely, the impact of some of these stories can completely ruin these businesses trades.
        But so long as we are all educated about the impact of fake news, I’m optimistic we can ride through the storm as well…

    • Wag the Dog was that way, too. I mean, they created a war to cover up the president’s affairs. It’s been happening in Hollywood for a very long time (remember Samantha on Sex & the City only threw martini parties). I guess they were predicting what was to come.

      • I know, its almost scary how prophetic some TV has been! Wag the dog is now on my list for this weekend thanks Gini