The rise of fake news is a threat to our democracy – and our message

In a world of fake news, post truths and alternative facts, and another UK election on the horizon, a new threat is emerging for the campaign trail.

As Prime Minister Theresa May, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Liberal Democrat leader Tim Fallon all hit the campaign trail in the run-up to the snap general election on 8 June, there are concerns that their marketing campaigns could be overshadowed by fake news stories spread via social media.

In the run-up to last year’s US presidential race, entirely fictitious stories circulated through social media, such as the Hillary Clinton “Pizzagate” fiasco or false claims about a sex trafficking operation within the Democratic Party, or a “story” about Donald Trump being endorsed by Pope Francis.

There are various theories about what impact this had on the overall US election results. A study by Stanford and New York Universities said that it was unlikely to have swayed the election, but there are still huge concerns about how the rising tide of false information spread via social media could have an alarming effect, not just on our democratic processes, but also on how firms spread their messages to customers.

Although fake news is not seen as widespread threat just yet here in the UK, it is important that social media puts strong measures in place to make sure stories marketed from sources which are not credible undermine our democracy, and our businesses.

The problem is, once a fake news story goes viral, the damage has already been done – as the saying goes, a lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.

Facebook and Google have made efforts to stamp out fake news on their sites, while the UK’s Cultural, Media and Sport Committee has launched an inquiry into fake news. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales has set up a new site, Wikitribune, to fight the rise of fabricated stories. Let’s hope these initiatives will help stamp out the problem before it’s too late.

This article was published in our Business Reporter Online: Future of Marketing.

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