Fake News. We’ve all heard about it. Whether we realize it or not, we’ve all been victims of it. You may not agree the way U.S. President Trump accuses noteworthy media outlets, such as the New York Times of spreading “fake news, ” but he’s right about one thing: journalists don’t always get it right. Sometimes, that’s not deliberate; errors come about because stories can be very complicated and nuanced. For example, if I’d only read news reports about the Jody Wilson Raybould story I’d have held one opinion. But after speaking to someone who intimately knew the story from an insider’s perspective, I held another.

Whatever the cause, it’s always important to keep your inner sceptic alert, not just when it comes to the news, but also as a consumer. For example, companies have been known to create fake reviews of products in order to draw in customers. They also falsify information in hopes of making a sale. Of course, should a business that subscribes to these unethical practices be exposed, its credibility will vanish.

Because of actual fake news and fake claims of fake news, it’s becoming very difficult to figure out what is true, and what isn’t. An article in Forbes magazine sums it up perfectly in a paragraph amusingly headed, “The Age of Bullshit.”

“How many times have you wondered if you were chatting with a real person or a bot? Facebook and Twitter are in deep brand trouble for being prime purveyors of disinformation- and now LinkedIn may be joining them too. Real is fake and sometimes fake is fake. How are we to know?”

“How are we to know” isn’t an easy question to answer. Witness the recent fake news about Starbucks, which was widely shared in the wake of the coffee company being accused of racial profiling. Coupons promising free Starbucks coffee to African American customers, as an apology, turned out to be fake, and the hoax deliberately undermined the company’s reputation.

As a business person, the last thing you want to do is inadvertently undermine your credibility or your good name. However, if you consistently adhere to the two principles below, there’s a good chance no one (well, except maybe Donald Trump) will ever accuse you of creating fake news.

Principle One: Just the facts, ma’am!
Before you share data or information, make sure to double-check your facts. It’s very easy to get lazy and to not substantiate data. But a little digging should tell you whether or not the source is reliable. Similarly, follow the rules good journalists use and make sure you have more than one source for your statements of fact.

Principle Two: Remember Not to Trust Your Memory
Unless you record all of your conversations (and who can do that?!), it’s inevitable that you won’t always accurately recall what someone said to you. If you’re in doubt, check with that person. Another good practice, following a meeting or a business transaction, is to send a summary to your client (or a co-worker or your boss) in order to make sure you have a shared understanding of the contents of your communication.

Of course, fake news has been around for a whole lot longer than we sometimes think, as the Smithsonian describes in a great overview called “The Age-Old Problem of “Fake News.” But what has changed is how easy it is to share misinformation, thanks to the Internet and to social media, making it more important than ever to follow one or more excellent pieces of advice: “Don’t believe everything you read.” (Or see. Or hear!)

To find out how the Language Lab can ensure that your business communication is clear, well researched, and carefully written, contact me at The Language Lab.

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